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The value of early diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder

Colleen Kraft, MD, senior medical director of clinical adoption at Cognoa, discusses how autism spectrum disorder (ASD) development affects children and families, along with how early diagnosis and treatment can improve the lives of children with ASD.

In this interview, Colleen Kraft, MD, senior medical director of clinical adoption at Cognoa, discussed the hurdles many children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) face, and the benefits these children and their families can experience from early diagnosis and treatment.

Kraft started the discussion by noting how most expulsions from school occur in preschool-aged children. Differences in behavior, speech, and language, along with failing to understand social contexts, leads to these children being expelled. According to Kraft, pediatricians should work with parents on regulating children's behavior in a way that is developmentally appropriate.

An example Kraft gave was that a 4-year-old with ASD may not understand the social cues which could get them into trouble, meaning they may not understand why they are being punished. This leads to poor performance and expulsion in preschool for many children with ASD.

With this in mind, Kraft believes that early diagnosis is vital for kids to be successful academically and socially. The American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended early screening and evaluation for ASD, and steps have been made to help pediatricians understand the differences in these children's development.

Kraft remembers a time when ASD diagnosis was seen as a "death sentence." Now, however, treatment is available, with data showing that children are less likely to show signs of ASD in kindergarten if they begin treatment early.

"For any developmental disability, parents have 2 fears. First, they think they caused it. Second, they think there's nothing they can do about it," Kraft said. Kraft believes that changing this rhetoric could help decrease the stigma surrounding ASD.

In a message to parents of children with ASD, Kraft said their children will have slightly different pathways than children without ASD, but they can still find success and thrive. These children have skills and talents they can harness once they get past the core deficits they may face at a young age.