Act Early To Identify Developmental Issues In Children

by Lorraine Cragan-Sullivan, South Carolina’s Act Early Ambassador

Did you know 23 percent of children aged 3-17 in South Carolina (210,441 children) have one or more emotional, behavioral, or developmental conditions (KIDS Count Data Book, 2017-2018)? That is nearly one-fourth of the children in our state. According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, the percent of children in foster care is even higher with one-third of children having a diagnosed disability.

According to Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child, “in the first few years of life, more than one million new neural connections form every second.” Early identification of developmental problems during the first five years can make a huge difference in changing the trajectory of a child’s life. However, research shows only about 30 percent of children with delays and disabilities are detected (Glascoe, 2000).

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) developed the “Learn the Signs. Act Early.” (LTSAE) to improve early identification of children with autism and other developmental disabilities so children and families can get the services and support they need. The LTSAE program encourages parents and providers to learn the signs of healthy development, monitor every child’s early development, and take action when there is a concern. The program offers free checklists and other tools to make developmental monitoring practical and easy.

South Carolina is one of 43 states and territories to receive the Association of University Centers for Disabilities (AUCD) Act Early Network-wide Response to COVID-19 made possible by a cooperative agreement with the CDC. The South Carolina Act Early COVID-19 Advisory Team is working to promote resilience through parent-engaged developmental monitoring with the CDC’s Milestone Tracker App by Department of Social Services Child Welfare staff and foster parents. This is part of a larger effort to promote the four steps of early identification:

  1. Parent-Engaged Developmental Monitoring
  2. Developmental & Autism Screening
  3. Referral to Early Intervention Services
  4. Receipt of Early Intervention Services

The Institute for Child Success (ICS) is serving on the South Carolina Act Early COVID-19 Advisory Team, along with representatives from South Carolina Department of Social Services (DSS), SC Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC), South Carolina Department of Health and Human ServicesBabyNet (DHHS), SC Department of Education (DOE), Help Me Grow SC, Family Connection of SC, SC First Steps, Children’s Trust of SC, SC Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and SC Infant Mental Health Association (SCIMHA). Collectively, the Advisory Team is identifying new and existing opportunities to bolster the four steps of early identification to promote optimal health for young children in South Carolina. ICS fully supports the LTSAE initiative and encourages other organizations will do the same.

Call to Action:

  • Encourage use of the CDC’s LTSAE materials in your respective organization.
  • Develop an organizational or program policy that incorporates developmental monitoring using LTSAE materials.
  • Download the Milestone Tracker App today and encourage parents and professionals to use the Milestone Tracker App.

For more information, please contact the CDC’s Act Early Ambassador to South Carolina, Lorraine Cragan-Sullivan (, 864-991-5930).

Reference Links:

i Brain Architecture (

Glascoe, P. Pediatrics in Review, Vol 21 (8), August 2000.

UNDERDETECTION Most physicians depend on clinical judgment rather than screening tools. Unfortunately, research shows that clinical judgment detects fewer than 30 percent of children who have mental retardation, learning disabilities, language impairments, and other developmental disabilities. Clinical judgment also identifies fewer than 50 percent of children who have serious emotional and behavioral disturbances.

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