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. 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.
Dr Cynthia Johnson, Director of Cleveland Clinic Children’s Center for Autism explains: “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 capitalise on their unique abilities.”
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 specialised developmental tests.
Professionals focus treatment on one-on-one behavior therapy, and training parents on enhancing their children’s social skills. According to Dr Johnson, parent training is a psychotherapeutic technique, backed by decades of research, in which parents are main drivers of change for their children.
“Behaviorally-based parent training for parents of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) focuses on teaching parents skills to work on core deficits of ASD – communication skills, both verbal and nonverbal, and early prerequisite skills – e.g., imitation skills,” she explains. “It includes teaching parents strategies and approaches to decrease challenging and/or disruptive behaviors – tantrums, aggression, self-injurious behaviors. Parents can learn how to teach their child self-help skills like feeding self, toileting, settling for sleep, and dressing self.”
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. Meanwhile, medications are often used to treat disruptive behaviors and attention weakness and hyperactivity.