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Pandemic presents unique struggles for diagnosing children for autism, Cleveland Clinic says

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Posted at 6:32 PM, Apr 14, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-14 18:54:24-04

CLEVELAND — According to the CDC, one of 44 children in the U.S. are diagnosed with autism every day, and during the pandemic, many families received that diagnosis virtually.

One of those children is four-year-old Carter. At the beginning of the pandemic, Catherine Smith spent more time at home, since both her kids were learning virtually. During that time, she noticed differences in her son’s behavior.

“Things like him walking around with a speaker to his ear, or [the] computer or the TV had to be up loud,” said Smith.

She called her doctor, then got set up with the Cleveland Clinic Center for Autism. At two years old, Carter was diagnosed as a child living with autism, but at that time, everything was virtual. Smith wasn't alone in that journey.

The director of the Center for Autism Cleveland Clinic Children's, Dr. Cynthia Johnson, said lots of families went through the same process with a virtual diagnosis, which was also new for them at the clinic.

“It continued to be a challenge, but we did the best we could, knowing we wanted to get these children into early treatment,” said Johnson.

Carter's family faced many hurdles, including the fact that due to the pandemic, the child lacked social interactions.

“Typical questions I might ask, like, 'How does he respond to children that approach him out on the playground?' They didn't have these opportunities all of a sudden,” Johnson said.

There were also struggles trying to keep kids’ attention via Zoom. Over time, they got the system down pat by working with the parents.

“On that second visit, we would get on with families and sort of direct the parent in ways to interact with the child,” said Johnson.

Johnson said their goal is the get an autism diagnosis in children as young as 1 to 2 years old.

“The child doesn't have access to the therapies they would earlier on. It's also a huge con that I see the child's not well understood, or it can be greatly misunderstood and parents are misunderstood,” said Johnson.

After three months of virtual visits, kids like Carter were able to get that in-person therapy, and two years later, with an early diagnosis, the progress is undeniable.

“As you can tell, he went from not saying one word to two words. So now he's just like, a ball of energy,” said Smith.

Carter's mom says she couldn’t have done it without the help of her family, her faith and the clinic, telling every parent out there, they're not alone.

“I’m not in this community by myself. You know, it takes a village,” said Smith.

If you think your child has autism, contact your doctor. For more on the Cleveland Clinic Autism Center click here.

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