CDC: “Learn the Signs. Act Early.” Campaign

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This campaign helped millions of parents and many pediatricians learn about autism.


In the United States, one in six children has some form of autism, and the earlier it is diagnosed, the more that can be done to help the child. Unfortunately, when parents hear the term “autism,” they immediately associate it with the movie “Rain Man,” not with their own child or children. Consequently, the campaign could not focus on reading the symptoms of autism. Instead, we informed mothers what social and verbal milestones their children should be reaching. The campaign used the common milestones that are easy to spot (physical growth on a growth chart, first tooth, first step, etc.) as a launching point to discuss less obvious milestones such as pointing, using two-word sentences, etc.


In this campaign, we worked with our strategic partner, Porter Novelli. To increase awareness about the early warning signs of developmental disabilities such as autism, and to help ensure that children get services at the youngest age possible, we helped develop a targeted social marketing campaign: Learn the Signs. Act Early.

The campaign had two phases. The first informed pediatricians as to the early warning signs and resources available. The second reached out to parents of children below the age of five. The campaign educated parents and doctors about the developmental milestones that every young child should reach, the warning signs of a developmental delay and the need to act early when a problem is suspected. We created physicians’ informational pieces, fact sheets, posters, print ads, and a radio campaign, in both English and Spanish. We also created a TV commercial that aired on a humongous screen in Times Square, among other places.


The campaign has generated more than 8.5 million page views on the campaign’s website and 750,000 material downloads — and 43% of pediatricians and 28% of parents said they had heard of the CDC’s “Learn the Signs. Act Early.” campaign.