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Free family program offers development screenings for children

By COLLIN BREAUX November 2, 2023

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Parents of young and growing children may wonder if their child is on the autistic spectrum or if they are developing in a healthy way–and looking for assistance resources.

Help Me Grow Northwest Florida is able to provide such screening and referral services. The free and confidential program is available to families in Washington and Holmes counties–as well as Bay, Calhoun, Gulf, and Jackson counties.

Developmental screenings are available for children under nine years old. Parents can complete an online screening and learn more information at 

“We help families monitor their child’s development,” Help Me Grow Northwest Florida Early Childhood Care Coordination Manager Alyssa Gray said. “If there is a need, we make a referral.”

Screenings allow parents to see where their kids are on the developmental path and monitoring children can help parents see how their young ones are growing, Gray said. 

Addressing developmental challenges early is important since much of an individual’s physical and mental formation takes place early, she said. A recent survey of registered voters in Northwest Florida found that 8 in 10 residents agree that developmental screenings are critical to making sure children are on the right developmental path, according to a news release.

A lot of concern is had regarding children being on the autistic spectrum, according to Gray. One of their screenings checks for autism in toddlers.

Several families who have used Help Me Grow have “walked through that journey,” Gray said. One mother in particular has learned to embrace “new parenting models” after learning her child was autistic. 

“Some of our greatest success are giving mom and dad peace of mind that their child is developing well,” Gray said.

Help Me Grow is “parent-driven” and does not tell parents what they’re doing is wrong or how to handle their child’s unique needs, she said.

“Working with these families early on can change the trajectory of their child’s development,” Gray said.