April Member of the Month

Marie PoulsenMarie Kanne Poulsen, Ph.D. | April 2021

What attracted you to the field of childhood development and early intervention?
I was a new second-grade teacher in the inner city and soon noticed the disparity in school readiness skills among the thirty-eight children in my classroom. I asked the parents to bring these children in an hour early so I could work with them and thus realized that added intervention really helped them socially, emotionally, and academically develop a love for learning.

In the seventies, when the NICU at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles first opened, we saw a real need for infant and family support. There were few comprehensive programs, such as Early Start, as part of our system of care at that time.

And likewise, before Early Head Start, I realized there was a need for a program for infants and toddlers that would partner with parents before the preschool age.

California is now blessed with both the Early Start and Early Head Start programs.

How long have you been a member of IDA?
In the early 1970’s, IDA was small and local. I still remember when the newsletters were mimeographed. The organization was a grassroots effort by providers who truly cared for infants and toddlers and saw the need for more infant and family support. IDA became a state-wide organization in 1983. Since then, it has become a significant practice and policy influence in the state of California.

Can you share a fond memory of Dr. Vivien Weinstein, who IDA remembers and honors by naming our largest annual event after her?
Vivian Weinstein was a mentor for so many! She taught us HOW to work with families and their children by “standing up and being counted." Vivian and I worked with mothers and infants who were affected by the crack cocaine crisis in the 1980s. We worked diligently to change the perception that mothers with crack cocaine addictions were perpetrators but were instead victims themselves affected by the crack addiction tragedy and needing extensive support. Overcoming an addiction and caring for an infant takes heroic effort and the mothers that were able to do so, are, in my mind, true heroines because it was so difficult and so many had to do it alone.

What do you believe are the largest barriers to early identification of children who many have Autism Spectrum Disorder?
The largest barrier to the early identification for young children with autism is ignorance about evidence-based assessment and intervention for autism spectrum disorders in infants and toddlers, ages 12 to 30 months. We know that early intervention works! The way to improve early identification is to provide education. Many pediatricians, regional center managers, service coordinators and providers need to be educated that one can identify and diagnose children with autism before 3 years old.

Children with autism have difficulty with social communication. Speech and language evaluation, including non-verbal language, should be a part of every child’s assessment from infancy. Autism screening should be provided by 18 months of age. Part C programs in many states have a psychologist as part of the team. Regional Centers benefit when they have psychologists available to assess infants and toddlers.

April is Autism Acceptance month. What do you appreciate most about the early intervention for preschool children with Autism Spectrum Disorder?
I like the words acceptance and inclusion.

The California Department of Education has budgeted $170 million for quality inclusion of all children in early care and education programs. The vision is that preschool children will no longer be segregated in special day classes but will be included in a general education program with special education supports.
This is a beautiful example of the possibilities.

Where does California shine for early intervention?
The Family Resource Network is something unique to California and something we do well and are proud of. What works best for children are the partnerships between parents, service providers and the family resource network. The Family Resource Centers are successful examples of family-focused, and culturally sensitive hubs of support and resources.

Where can the state improve?

  • Improving accessibility to Early Start services is foremost! It is great that services are available, but accessibility needs to be better. We need to improve access of care for three different groups. The community needs to do more proactive creative work in outreach to:
  1. Indian tribal communities
  2. Undocumented mothers
  3. Non-English-speaking mothers
  • Another area we need improvement is with IFSPs, which often list a child’s vulnerabilities and not the child’s strengths. Strengths build resilience. Every IFSP should reflect the child’s strengths and every meeting should start off with strengths.
  • We need to support that Regional Center service coordinators are limited to the case load specified by the legislature. Many are serving over 90 families.

What advice would you give parents with concerns about the development of their children?
The role of parents feeling competent and confident is key. Parents need to have someone to help if they have a concern. No concern is too small to be addressed. We need to enable listening to parents by providing access to support. Pediatricians, mommy and me classes and family resource centers all provide opportunity but need to be made accessible and welcoming to all parents in all communities. Demographics have changed over the years. Many mothers now are single and isolated from families of origin who traditionally have provided support to new mothers. So many isolated single mothers may never have had experience holding and caring for their babies before they had their own. They need to be able to ask for help if they have a concern.

Is there a special message you would like to share with IDA’s members?
Other organizations have come and gone over the years, but IDA has been here all along, advocating, supporting, and providing conferences around early intervention for parents and providers. IDA is unique in that we have so many disciplines. The great part of working together with so many disciplines is that you incorporate the values of others and become transdisciplinary yourself. Appreciate IDA’s value!


Marie Kanne Poulsen, Ph.D., Professor of Pediatrics, USC Keck School of Medicine; Chief Psychologist, Division of General Pediatrics, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles; Associate Director, USC University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities

Biography - Marie Kanne Poulsen, Ph.D. is Professor of Pediatrics at the Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California and is the Chief Psychologist of the Division of General Pediatrics at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. She has worked extensively with service delivery, program development, research, and policy addressing the needs of vulnerable infants and young children and their families. Her specialties include infant/family and early childhood mental health and children with special developmental and health care needs. Her work centers on supporting families to build resilience in young children at-risk due to biological and psycho-social circumstance, including developmental disabilities, chronic illness, perinatal substance exposure, maternal depression, out-of-home placement, domestic violence and the stresses of poverty. Currently, she has a Governor’s appointment as Chair of the State Interagency Coordinating Council on Early Intervention. Dr. Poulsen was an invited participant at the Surgeon General’s Workshop on Violence and Public Health, the National Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health Summit, and the 1999 White House Conference on Mental Health. She has presented internationally in Amsterdam, Kyoto and Ra’anana, Israel.