Statewide campaign pushes for early detection of autism, related disorders

UofL Autism Center at Kosair Charities kicks off program April 1

The University of Louisville's Autism Center at Kosair Charities will kick off a statewide program April 1 to help parents, teachers and caregivers recognize the early signs of autism.

The ongoing campaign, "Learn the Signs. Act Early In Kentucky," steps up outreach efforts during April's National Autism Awareness Month with free, public workshops, webinars and print materials that can be downloaded from a website.

"We want our message to reach anyone and everyone who spends time with children," said Scott Tomchek, co-clinical director for UofL's autism center and Kentucky ambassador for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Act Early program.

Autism is a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life and affects a person's ability to communicate and interact with others. Autism is defined by a certain set of behaviors and is what is known as a "spectrum disorder," meaning that it affects individuals differently and to varying degrees.

According to the Autism Society, 1 percent of all children in the United States ages 3-17 have an autism spectrum disorder. It is estimated that 1 of every 88 babies born will develop an autism spectrum disorder, and that up to 1.5 million Americans are currently living with the condition.

The campaign is a partnership that includes the autism center, University of Kentucky Human Development Institute, the Kentucky Department of Education, the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services and autism support groups.

Harold Kleinert, executive director of UK's Human Development Institute, said the statewide push to increase the public's understanding of autism and related disorders can have a big impact.

"Doctors rely, in part, on a parent's observations when it comes to assessing a child's developmental progress," Kleinert said. "So educating the public helps the doctor who, in turn, can find ways to help children who aren't reaching developmental milestones when they should."

To learn more about the campaign or download materials, see or contact Rebecca Grau, assistant director of UofL's Autism Center at Kosair Charities, at 502-852-7799.