Non-Profit Urges Parents and Legislators to Make the First Five (Years of Life) Count for All Kids

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Budget Woes Threaten Children’s Futures and Put Proven Early Identification and Treatment Services at Risk

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As the largest provider of autism and early intervention services, Easter Seals staff, therapists and families know what’s possible when kids get the support they need during the first few years of life -- and also what happens when they don’t.

At a time when states are tightening their budget belts and evaluating funding for early childhood services and care, Easter Seals wants to make certain the nation’s youngest children aren’t robbed of their chance to a strong start in life. That’s why, today, the non-profit disability services organization is launching Make the First Five Count℠ -- a national awareness and advocacy effort designed to give children at risk of developmental delays, autism or other disabilities the right support they need to be school-ready and build a foundation for a lifetime of learning.

“As the largest provider of autism and early intervention services, Easter Seals staff, therapists and families know what’s possible when kids get the support they need during the first few years of life -- and also what happens when they don’t,” says James E. Williams, Jr., president and chief executive officer, Easter Seals. “But as a nation, we don’t invest nearly enough in early detection and treatment for young children before the age of five, even though it’s incredibly effective and more than pays for itself.”

Too many young children don’t get the services they need, when they need them most.
Every year, millions of young children with unidentified disabilities and developmental delays enter school with learning and health issues that put them far behind their peers and have a lasting, negative effect on their ability to meet their full potential. Many will never catch up.

Sadly, fewer than 1 in 5 young children actually receive the proper screening to identify their special need. For example, children aren’t being diagnosed with autism as early in life as possible. The average age for an autism diagnosis is four and a half; it’s possible to diagnose children as early as 24 months. Earlier detection gives children a window of opportunity and access to early intervention and treatment.

“There’s been a great deal of legislative and media attention spent on how to improve our educational system, beginning with elementary school,” says Katherine Beh Neas, a leading expert on children with disabilities and vice president government relations, Easter Seals. “Easter Seals knows it’s more important and cost-effective to focus on programs that identify and provide services for children well before school, before age five, so young children gain the skills they need to be successful in school.”

It’s critical to invest in education for children of all ages, but according to a white paper report Easter Seals released today, research shows the most significant and lasting results begin in infancy.

Young children with special needs and developmental delays can succeed in school alongside their peers if they receive early intervention services that work to strengthen their physical, social, emotional and intellectual abilities at a very young age. By age five, a child has begun to develop deep skills in language, problem solving, balance and coordination, socialization, independence, and much more.

These early skills are the building blocks for success in school and not only a predictor of high school graduation, but higher earnings as an adult in the workforce. A Chicago Public School’s study estimates that for every dollar we spend today on early intervention, we save seven dollars in future costs to society.

Why Make the First Five Count NOW?
In many instances, even identified problems go unaddressed because too many communities do not have the resources to provide the direct services and treatments for vulnerable young children to succeed. The current economic environment has forced many states to reduce access to early care and intervention services as part of larger efforts to balance their budgets, even with an increase in the number of children under age five.

“We can’t sit on the sidelines while young children fail to access the services they need for a bright future. We know what works, we know who needs help, and we have to act now,” concludes Neas.

If you believe all kids deserve the best start in life, take action now by signing the petition and telling your friends to speak out today. And, if you’re a parent, it’s even more important to learn what every parent needs to know about their child’s development and where to go for help at Children only receive these services when their parents or caregivers take action early.

About Easter Seals
Easter Seals is the leading non-profit provider of services for individuals with autism, developmental disabilities, physical disabilities and other special needs. For more than 90 years, we have been offering help and hope to children and adults living with disabilities, and to the families who love them. Through therapy, training, education and support services, Easter Seals creates life-changing solutions so that people with disabilities can live, learn, work and play. Visit or

*The National Survey of Children's Health, 2007. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,Health Resources and Services Administration, Maternal and Child Health Bureau, (2009). Rockville, Maryland: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved on January 7, 2010, from

**Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorders – Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network. Surveillance Summaries, December 2009, MMWR 2009;58 (No. SS-10).

***“Economic benefits of quality preschool education for America's 3- and 4-year olds. ”National Institute for Early Education Research. Available at Note: Several studies, including Perry Pre-School in Michigan, the Abecedarian Project in Chapel Hill, N.C., and the Chicago Public School’s Child-Parent Centers document the value of high-touch early education programs for young children at risk for disability and developmental delay. The Chicago study estimates that for every dollar we spend today, we save seven dollars in future costs to society.


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Kristen Barnfield
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