Early Learning Newsletter | April 2021 | Celebrating Autism Awareness Month


The U.S. Department of Education's Early Learning Newsletter

Celebrating Autism Awareness Month

April 2021

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In This Issue:

From the Directors

David Cantrell and Jamila Smith

Hello, Early Learning Leaders!

With the passage of the American Rescue Plan, we were happy to see that systems to serve our youngest learners were prioritized, including $250 million for Part C of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which authorizes federal funding for early intervention services to infants and toddlers with disabilities from birth through age 2, and $200 million for Part B, Sec. 619, which authorizes supplementary grants to states for preschool programs serving children with disabilities ages 3 through 5.

In April, we celebrate Autism Awareness Month.  Early childhood educators and providers can play an active role in supporting children with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) and other developmental disabilities and their families. By using developmentally appropriate practices, engaging families, tracking developmental milestones, and sharing community-based resources, early care and education providers can make important contributions in the lives of young children with ASD and their families.

In this edition of Early Learning, you will find information about resources to support children with ASD, as well as all children, families, and professionals, as they transition to in-person learning at more early childhood programs and schools.

For our “Voices from the Field” blog, we interviewed Ann Sam a research scientist at Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute. She talks about her support for the use of evidence-based practices for children with ASD, using a variety of professional development approaches, including coaching and interactive, online modules.

Thank you, as always, for reading Early Learning!

David Cantrell, Ph.D.
Delegated the authority to perform the functions and duties of the Assistant Secretary for the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services

Jamila Smith
Director, Innovation and Early Learning Programs
Office of Elementary and Secondary Education


Project Spotlight

Early Learning Kits for Pre-K Children in South Dakota

South Dakota Statewide Family Engagement Center

The South Dakota Statewide Family Engagement Center (SD SFEC) is partnering with South Dakota Public Broadcasting (SDPB), School Board Association of South Dakota, South Dakota Association for the Education of Young Children, and Early Learner South Dakota to send early learning kits to young children across the state. SDPB was one of 20 television stations across the country to receive a Sesame Street in Communities grant to provide early learning kits to teachers, families, and child care providers. For the early learning kits, the SD SFEC created 24 Kindergarten Readiness cards, which can be downloaded on its website.


Early Learning Updates

Early learner and teacher in classroom

Prioritizing Vaccinations for Early Childhood Educators

The U.S. Department of Education (Department) is partnering with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to help states to ensure that teachers, school staff, early childhood educators, and other early childhood staff can receive at least one COVID-19 vaccine shot by the end of March. States have been directed to make teachers, school staff, and early childhood educators and staff eligible at all available vaccination locations. This includes individuals who work in preK–12 schools, Head Start and Early Head Start programs, Part C early intervention programs, and licensed child care providers, including center-based and family care providers, and home visitors. Information on the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program and prioritizing vaccinations for school staff and early childhood educators is available at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Staff will be able to sign up for an appointment at over 9,000 pharmacy locations participating in the federal program nationwide.


Voices From the Field

Ann Sam

Promoting Evidence-based Practices for Children with Autism

We recently interviewed Ann Sam, a research scientist at Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Sam talks about how she supports the use of evidence-based practices for children with autism by using a variety of professional development approaches, including coaching and interactive, online modules. We invite you to read the full interview on the OSERS Blog.


This Month’s Recommended Resources

CDC logo

Guidance for Child Care Providers During COVID-19

The CDC released new resources for childcare providers. The guidance for operating child care programs during COVID-19 and toolkits for child care programs provide information to help child care professionals protect children, their families, and staff, slow the spread of COVID-19, and keep children healthy. The guidance and toolkits are intended for all types of child care programs, including child care centers, family child care homes, and other child care settings.

Blackboard with addition problem

Math for All

Funded through ED’s Education Innovation and Research grant program, Math for All, is a professional development program that supports K–5 teachers in personalizing math instruction to better meet the needs of all students. Math for All’s resources and toolkits support students with diverse strengths and needs. ED’s Institute of Education Sciences funded a study to look at the impact of the Math for All program. The study identified key findings related to teachers’ knowledge and skills and classroom practices, and on students’ learning.

Autism Prevalence by State

Autism Spectrum Disorder Visualization Tool

The CDC has an ASD visualization tool that can be used to explore prevalence and demographic information at the national, state, and community levels. Information about data sources can be found under the Methodology heading on the website. Accessible versions of the data are also available.

AJ Gadgets

AJ Gadgets at Hero Elementary

Twin Cities Public Television, a 2015 and 2020 recipient of the ED-funded Ready to Learn Programming grant launched the Hero Elementary show in the summer of 2020, featuring students who are superheroes. One student, AJ Gadgets, has a passion for comic books, superheroes, and their gadgets, along with a sensitivity to noises and scents, and a high attention to details. AJ also happens to be on the autism spectrum. He processes the power of thought projection, with instant replay to help the other superheroes remember the details they may have forgotten. To his superhero friends, AJ is a team member — who just happens to have ASD.

ECTA logo

Supporting Preschool Children in Authentic Learning

The ED-funded Early Childhood Technical Assistance (ECTA) Center developed a COVID-19 website with resources for states and local programs serving young children with disabilities and their families. ECTA has developed a multipart video series for children attending preschool and their families, and the staff that support them. A brand-new episode 13 is a two-part series focused on authentic learning in remote preschool.


Featured Webinars

Teacher Time icon

Materials that Promote Inclusion for Infants and Toddlers

The HHS’ Office of Head Start National Center on Early Child Development, Teaching, and Learning is hosting a webinar on April 13 on using learning materials that promote inclusion for infants and toddlers. Ensuring a variety of materials that are easily and safely accessible for exploration is important for all children, including those with disabilities or suspected delays. Participants will learn strategies to modify or enhance learning materials to ensure full and effective participation for all infants and toddlers.

National Center on Deaf-Blindness (NCDB) logo

Identification and Referral of Children with Deaf-Blindness

ECTA, Infant and Toddlers Coordinators Association, and The Center for IDEA Early Childhood Data Systems will join with the National Center on Deaf Blindness (NCDB) for a webinar on the identification and referral of infants and toddlers who are deaf-blind. This process requires collaboration at the local and national levels as well as inter-agency collaborations. One of the key responsibilities of the NCDB and state deaf-blind projects is to work with national and state partners and systems to identify and refer children who are deaf-blind as early as possible in order to link families to appropriate services, resources, and support. The April 28 webinar will provide information and resources.


Funding Opportunities

ED seal

FY 2021 Training and Information for Parents of Children With Disabilities—Community Parent Resource Centers

ED published a Notice Inviting Applications for the FY 2021 Training and Information for Parents of Children With Disabilities—Community Parent Resource Centers grant competition. The purpose of the centers is to ensure that parents of children with disabilities receive training and information to help improve outcomes and raise expectations for their children.

The application deadline is April 20, 2021.

Logo: HRSA

Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA)


Autism Field-Initiated Innovative Research Studies (Autism-FIRST)

Health Resources and Services Administration’s (HRSA’s) Maternal and Child Health Bureau is accepting applications for the Autism Field-Initiated Innovative Research Studies (Autism-FIRST) Program. The purpose of this program is to support research that advances the evidence base on interventions designed to improve the health of children, adolescents, and young adults with ASD and other developmental disabilities across the lifespan.

The application deadline is April 15, 2021.


Bridging the Word Gap Research Network

HRSA’s Maternal and Child Health Bureau also has a funding announcement for its Bridging the Word Gap Research Network (BWG). Research has found that on average, by age 3, children from low-income families know less than half of the words as children from more economically advantaged families. The purpose of the BWG is to establish and maintain a national, multi-site, collaborative research network to develop, test, and promote effective interventions to support the enrichment of early home learning environments for children from underserved families for whom there are limited or ineffective interventions.

The application deadline is April 22, 2021.


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Check out more early learning stories, including "Voices From the Field" posts, on OSERS Blog.