Early Detection and Intervention is Vital for Identifying and Destigmatizing Autism Spectrum Disorder

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An expert from a top American hospital, Cleveland Clinic Children’s, explains how applied behavior analysis and medication help to encourage independence and develop unique abilities

Cynthia Johnson, PhD, Director of Cleveland Clinic Children’s Center for Autism

CLEVELAND, Ohio: Early detection and intervention for children with autism spectrum disorder could help millions worldwide gain greater developmentally appropriate skills, enhance independence, and harness their unique abilities, says an expert at a top American hospital, Cleveland Clinic Children’s, marking World Autism Awareness Day on Friday, 2 April.

Cynthia Johnson, PhD, Director of Cleveland Clinic Children’s Center for Autism, said: “Early detection and early intervention leads to better outcomes. Increased awareness destigmatizes the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. While every parent views their child as a perfect gift, we want to tell them that identifying and treating autism spectrum disorder is not changing their child, but rather helping them to adapt and to capitalize on their unique abilities.”

Autism spectrum disorder is one of the more common childhood disorders, with the World Health Organization estimating that, globally, 1 in 160 children has autism spectrum disorder.

Autism spectrum disorder has two key components: lack of or weakness in social and social communication abilities, and presence of restrictive or repetitive behaviors, with identification possible as early as in the first year of life. While there is no one known medical cause for autism, research suggests a mix of many genetic and environmental factors are risks, such as older parents, premature birth, and environmental pollutants. Diagnosis can come from interviews with parents and teachers, along with specialized developmental tests.

“Parents with toddlers and preschool-aged children should be on the lookout for delayed speech and unusual communication development,” said Dr. Johnson. “Possible symptoms can include repetitive speech or phrases, lack of imitation of other people’s actions and emotions, atypical, repetitive and restricted play, engaging in repetitive motor movement such as hand flapping or finger flicking, or oversensitivity to sound. The earlier that we can identify autism spectrum disorder, the faster we can address these patients’ differences and hopefully offset a cascade of disruptions in early development.”

People with autism spectrum disorder are more likely to have seizures, epilepsy, gastrointestinal and nutritional issues, sleep disturbances, and anxiety.

Professionals focus treatment on one-on-one behavior therapy, and training parents on enhancing their children’s social skills. Technology solutions are also seeing increasing uptake among patients, according to Dr. Johnson. For example, children with autism spectrum disorder can use tablet devices with special speech software to better develop their multiple-word communication and vocabulary. As many people with autism spectrum disorder may be uncomfortable around people, they may be more comfortable to learn social skills from humanoid robotics that have fun and simplified expressions.

Medications are often used to treat disruptive behaviors and attention weakness and hyperactivity.

Dr. Johnson concluded: “Many people with autism spectrum disorder do want to be social and be part of their social community, they may just need to develop age-appropriate social skills and reduce interfering restricted behaviors. Medical treatment and applied behavior analysis can help patients become more independent. Many people with autism spectrum disorder are among the brightest people I’ve ever met. They have the ability to contribute to society in different ways because of their attention to detail, laser focus, mastery of fields, and thinking outside of the box.”

About Cleveland Clinic Children’s:

Cleveland Clinic Children’s is a part of the Cleveland Clinic health system and offers full medical, surgical and rehabilitative care for infants, children and adolescents. Cleveland Clinic Children’s supports 389 beds in four acute care hospitals and one post-acute specialty hospital. In addition, pediatric services are available at more than 50 outpatient clinic locations across Northeast Ohio. A staff of more than 300 full-time pediatricians and sub-specialists see 750,000 pediatric visits each year and provide hospital care for 13,000 children per year. Cleveland Clinic Children’s is a non-profit, multi-specialty academic medical center integrating clinical care, research, and education. Cleveland Clinic Children’s consistently ranks among the “Best Children’s Hospitals” by U.S. News & World Report.

About Cleveland Clinic:

Cleveland Clinic – now in its centennial year – is a nonprofit multispecialty academic medical center that integrates clinical and hospital care with research and education. Located in Cleveland, Ohio, it was founded in 1921 by four renowned physicians with a vision of providing outstanding patient care based upon the principles of cooperation, compassion and innovation. Cleveland Clinic has pioneered many medical breakthroughs, including coronary artery bypass surgery and the first face transplant in the United States. U.S. News & World Report consistently names Cleveland Clinic as one of the nation’s best hospitals in its annual “America’s Best Hospitals” survey. Among Cleveland Clinic’s 70,800 employees worldwide are more than 4,660 salaried physicians and researchers, and 18,500 registered nurses and advanced practice providers, representing 140 medical specialties and subspecialties. Cleveland Clinic is a 6,500-bed health system that includes a 173-acre main campus near downtown Cleveland, 19 hospitals, more than 220 outpatient facilities, and locations in southeast Florida; Las Vegas, Nevada; Toronto, Canada; Abu Dhabi, UAE; and London, England. In 2020, there were 8.7 million total outpatient visits, 273,000 hospital admissions and observations, and 217,000 surgical cases throughout Cleveland Clinic’s health system. Patients came for treatment from every state and 185 countries.