Penn Highlands Healthcare Advises How to Recognize Autism Spectrum Disorder

April is Autism Acceptance Month

DuBois, Pennsylvania, April 10, 2024 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- A toddler does not respond to their name. The child avoids eye contact. They do not talk. These could be signs that the child has autism spectrum disorder (ASD) – a neurodevelopmental condition that affects how people communicate, behave, learn and interact with others. April is National Autism Acceptance Month, a great time to learn more about ASD.

What is ASD and what are the symptoms?
ASD is a complex, lifelong developmental condition that typically appears during early childhood and can impact a person’s social skills, communication, relationships and self-regulation. Autism is referred to as a “spectrum” disorder due to the extensive range of symptom types and severities that individuals may experience.

The range and severity of symptoms can differ widely. Likewise, the abilities of people with ASD can vary significantly. Common characteristics include:

  • Lack of response to normal stimuli such as verbal or visual cues
  • Delayed movement, language and/or cognitive skills
  • Difficulty understanding or showing emotions
  • Avoidance of eye contact
  • Restricted or repetitive behaviors, movements or phrases
  • Co-occurring conditions including but not limited to mental health illness, gastrointestinal issues, seizure disorders and more

“While there is no known single cause for autism, it is widely accepted that it is caused by differences in brain structure or genetic factors,” explained Rachael Conner, M.ED, Director of Autism Services at Penn Highlands Connellsville Regional Center for Autism in Connellsville, Pennsylvania.  “Early diagnosis and intervention can greatly support a person on the spectrum with the resources needed to live to their full potential.”

 How is ASD diagnosed?
It can be difficult to diagnose ASD because unlike other disorders, there is not a medical test, such as a CT scan or blood test that can be used to provide a diagnosis. Medical professionals review the child’s developmental history and behaviors to make a diagnosis. ASD can sometimes be identified as early as 18 months of age, diagnosis at age 2 or older can be considered reliable. It is important to note that some people are not diagnosed until they are much older – even adults – which means that they may not receive the early help and therapies they need.

Autism is diagnosed four times more often in boys than girls. Its prevalence is not affected by race, region, or socio-economic status. Since autism was first diagnosed in the U.S. the incidence has climbed to an alarming one in 36 children in the U.S.

How is ASD treated?

There is no cure for ASD, though with early intervention and treatment, the diverse symptoms can be greatly improved.

Current treatments seek to reduce symptoms that interfere with daily functioning and quality of life. There is no “one-size-fits-all” treatment, but recommended therapies include Applied Behavioral Analysis, which encourages desired behaviors and discourages undesired behaviors; speech therapy; and sensory integration therapy. Each person with ASD has their own strengths and weaknesses and should be treated on an individual basis to address their specific needs. Common therapies include:

  • Speech-language therapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Physical therapy
  • Vision/orientation and mobility
  • Hearing therapy
  • Music therapy
  • Dog therapy

“It is important that all therapy goals are individualized in order to maximize the person’s abilities,” explained Rachael.

Treatments can be given in education, health, community or home settings, or a combination of settings. It is important that providers communicate with each other and the person with ASD and their family to ensure that treatment goals and progress are meeting expectations.

Penn Highlands Healthcare provides the Penn Highlands Connellsville Regional Center for Autism (PHCRCA), which is affiliated with Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital’s Center for Autism. PHCRCA provides families and children in Southwestern Pennsylvania with advanced educational and behavioral treatment. The program model has shown sterling documented positive outcomes in educational, medical and behavioral programming. For more information, visit



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