"An ingenious idea" drew Jane Squires into the University of Oregon research world as a doctoral student in 1985.
That idea -- the Ages & Stages Questionnaire (ASQ) -- has since grown and expanded. Today, it is used worldwide for assessing the developmental, social-emotional and other key parameters of children through age 5.
Squires directs the Center on Excellence in Developmental Disabilities Education, Research, and Service (UCEDD), part of a federally supported network of centers across the nation and housed in the College of Education.
She came to the UO to study under Diane Bricker, who founded the Early Intervention Program in 1978 and laid the foundation for the ASQ in a collaborative experiment to develop a newborn assessment tool with medical staff at Sacred Heart Hospital in Eugene.
Initially used by physicians or nurses to follow infants born in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, the ASQ was mailed to parents periodically during the first two years of their infant's life. By 2008 it had evolved into an online tool for parents across Oregon to use under a collaborative project with the Oregon Department of Education. Parents are either reassured that their children are developing normally or receive referrals to nearby agencies for help.
"This effort has greatly increased the numbers of children who are getting into intervention services," Squires says. "That's our goal -- to identify children who are having problems and get help to them as early as possible."
Bricker and Squires led early efforts to improve and expand the ASQ, which was employed across the United States and Canada when the American Academy of Pediatrics endorsed and required periodic early developmental screening in 2001.
The ASQ -- now in more than 10 languages -- has been produced commercially since 1995 under registered trademark by Maryland-based Brookes Publishing. It now features 21 assessment intervals known as the Ages & Stages Questionnaires. However, Squires says, research on implementation and adaptation continues in the Early Intervention Program, a unit of the UCEDD, as well as around the world.
Among other nations using the ASQ are Australia, Chile, China, Great Britain, Germany, Italy, New Zealand, Sweden, Thailand and Vietnam. Where necessary, Squires says, it has been adapted to fit in culturally. In Brazil, teachers in subsidized day-care facility now administer the ASQ to every preschool child.
"When I came here to the UO to pursue my Ph.D., the ASQ struck me immediately as an ingenious idea," Squires says. "It was five years old when I got here. It's intensely gratifying to realize that this tool is really helpful to a lot of people in a lot of different settings."
A big moment came six years ago, when a developmental pediatrician, Xiaoyan Bian of the Children's Health Care Institute at the Children's Hospital of Shanghai, China, contacted her. "She had heard about the ASQ and felt like it would be really good for China," Squires says. "She invited me over to talk to her dean about early childhood screening."
Bian spent part 2009-2010 as a visiting scholar at the UO to learn more about the ASQ, translate it into Chinese and adapt it to Chinese culture. In March, an eight-member research team documented the ASQ's implementation by the Shanghai government to screen 95 percent of newborns and young children in a metropolitan area that is home to more than 23 million people.
The Chinese-translated ASQ is "a promising screening instrument for identification problems in the Shanghai region," concluded the authors, which included Squires and three UO colleagues, in the Journal of Early Childhood Research. Bian is now leading a study of ASQ use across all of China.
The College of Education's Early Intervention Program offers much more than the ASQ, Squires notes. "The program has developed a lot of assessments over the years that have worldwide use, " she says. "We are known for measurements and assessments that are valid and reliable -- and practitioner friendly."
Among other efforts developed through research by faculty and students in the Early Intervention Program are:
• Assessment, Evaluation, and Programming System (AEPS), which provides curricula for use with young children with disabilities. It was made available commercially in 1983 and has is supported by the U.S. Department of Education.
• Social-Emotional Assessment Measure (SEAM), which is designed to help parents assess, monitor and address behavioral problems in infants and toddlers. The idea, Squires says, is to get these children ready for school. SEAM is being studied in several sites across the U.S.
• An evidence- and activity-based approach to teaching functional skills that benefit preschool children with autism so that they better engage in play and classroom interactions in school settings.
•Parents' Early Education for their Children (PEECH), a project that provided parenting education and support and mental health services to families with infants and toddlers who have been prenatally exposed to drugs and alcohol.
The Early Intervention Program has awarded 305 master's degrees since 1996 and 56 doctoral degrees since 1978. Master's students earn licenses to teach young children with disabilities in preschool settings. Doctoral students are heavily involved in research, teaching and supervision of graduate students.
Many master's degree students are involved in research, as well, Squires says. "One of the things we've been able to do is really integrate research and academics. For me, as a researcher, being able to train people and work with students is incredibly satisfying, because you can have a really broad impact."