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Your ATN@Work: Providing autism training to child care providers

Our ATN site in Arkansas has a model program for promoting early identification and intervention for autism in day cares and preschools

 By child developmental pediatrician Maya Lopez (left) and child psychologist Jayne Bellando. Drs. Lopez and Bellando practice in the developmental pediatrics department of Arkansas Children’s Hospital and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, in Little Rock. The department is part of the Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network (ATN).

As many readers of this website know too well, the average age of autism diagnosis in this country remains stuck at age 4. Yet many parents, early educators and other caregivers voice their first concerns about a child’s development before age 2. This tells us that day care providers and early educators are in a sweet spot for recognizing developmental red flags in very young children and discussing these concerns with parents.

Today we’d like to share the story of how we built a statewide program committed to educating early child care providers and early educators about autism – thanks in part to the support of the Autism Speaks ATN in its federally funded role as the Autism Intervention Research Network on Physical Health (AIR-P).

Healthy Child Care Arkansas
We call the program Healthy Child Care Arkansas. Autism awareness and screening are vital aspects of this program. So is the recognition that children’s health and development are influenced by their environment – an environment profoundly shaped by their daily caregivers.

It began in 2009 with a ATN/AIR-P grant that allowed us to develop and host a workshop we called “Spotting Autism in Early Child Care Settings.” We received additional support from the Arkansas Department of Human Services and our state’s Child Care Aware agencies to hold this workshop throughout our state. Over the course of 2010 and 2011, we trained more than 350 child care providers.

Importantly, we collected information on the program’s effectiveness by asking participants to complete questionnaires about autism before and then after they completed the workshop. The testing showed significant gains on several fronts, including:

* understanding of autism as a developmental disorder,

* ability to identify autism symptoms,

* confidence and willingness to discuss their concerns with parents and

* ability to use simple autism interventions appropriately in day care centers and preschools.

Meanwhile, the American Academy of Pediatrics awarded us three grants to conduct additional statewide workshops using two of its Healthy Futures curricula:

Medication Administration in Early Child Care and Education Settingsand

Managing Infectious Diseases in Early Child Care and Education Settings.”

Once again, our state’s Child Care Aware agencies provided additional support and organizing help. And again, pre- and post-workshop testing showed that participants were gaining significant knowledge and confidence in dealing with these important issues in their day care centers and preschools.

Importantly, these workshops tapped our faculty’s expertise to work directly with child care providers. Our workshops also showed providers how take advantage of state-provided resources in their communities.

In the process, we built strong relationships with some of our state’s most important child advocates: The men and women who have made careers out of caring for our youngest children.

We were so proud when many of these partners urged us to continue our training program beyond the scope of our grants from the Autism Speaks ATN/AIR-P and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Thanks to a state-funded early childhood professional development grant, we used what we learned to create Healthy Child Care Arkansas.

Its enduring mission is to provide early educators and child care providers with training, ongoing consultation and quality information on health-related issues including autism, developmental delays and safe medication administration. We currently have funding to sustain the program for seven years and hire a full time child care health consultant to provide on-site trainings and telephone support.

We’ve also launched a website that features our program trainings in web-based forms, alongside related information. (See above.) We’ve even expanded our training topics. They now include “Managing Challenging Behaviors,” “Food Allergies” and more.

We are grateful for the early ATN/AIR-P support that seeded this program and for the continuing support of our community and state partners. Truly, they’ve been our mighty allies in getting training and quality information into the hands of child care providers who need it most.

This journey from an ATN/AIR-P grant to a sustainable, state-wide program has taught us that there are many dedicated people who share our vision of helping children and families. We hope this story motivates other medical centers and school districts to find willing partners to make their own visions come true.

We also want to invite the Autism Speaks community to take advantage of our program’s web-based trainings. They’re designed for child care providers, but anyone who provides care to young children can benefit. It’s easy and free. Just …

1.  Go to

2.  Look for the upper left tab and click the “Member Area/Online Training” (second choice from the right).

3. Select “Create an Account.”

3.  Once you’ve completed the free registration, you’ll be directed to “Your Training” where you can select from trainings of interest.

And please let us know what you think in the comment section below!

* Learn more about the Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network here.
* Find the ATN center nearest you 
* Explore our archive of ATN expert-advice blogs and news stories 

The Autism Speaks blog features opinions from people throughout the autism community. Each blog represents the point of view of the author and does not necessarily reflect Autism Speaks' beliefs or point of view.