It has been estimated according to the data published by the World Health Organization that 1 in 160 children worldwide suffers from autism. The exact number is quite challenging to estimate for various reasons. It is presumed that Cuba has a lower rate of children with autism spectrum disorder when compared with the United States. Yet, Cuba has taken autism quite seriously and constantly develops and improves strategies aimed to increase the quality of life of children with this serious medical disorder and their families. The country has established specialized centers focused both on the treatment of children and inclusion of the families in the society, which is of course absolutely costs free.
In 2013, Cuba was the country to host the First International Forum on Autism and Inclusion. This conference gathered the globally recognized experts in the field of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The focus of the conference was to establish methods and discuss the significance of an early diagnosis of ASD and effective inclusion of such families in the society. The conference alone mirrors the country’s efforts to seek for the best possible ways to make the lives better for children with ASD and their families.
Treatment of Autism in Cuba
The program aimed to increase the quality of life of persons living with ASD is coordinated by the Cuban Ministry of Public Health and Ministry of Education. Other public sectors including culture, media, and sports institutions are also involved in the program for helping ASD individuals to reach the best of their abilities. The program consists of individualized, multi-disciplinary training aimed at developing and empowering skills. The ASD individuals also receive specialized education and advocacy support. The individualized treatment is tailored by the specialized Diagnostic Commission when the type and severity of the disease are taken into consideration. Treatment is focused on early intervention.
The treatment for ASD is conducted in the peaceful and comfortable environment in order to ensure the best possible effects of the treatment plan and to allow the improvement the patient’s mental and physical abilities. The objective of each individualized treatment plan is to ameliorate the symptoms of the disease and improve the child’s learning capacity. As already mentioned, the treatment is tailored according to the individual needs of each child.
Each medical facility that deals will the treatment of autism is equipped with rooms that resemble those in a hotel (cable TV, phone, dry cleaning services). The facility contains sauna, pool, gym, internet access, shops, and pharmacies.
Treatment Stage 1: Assessment
The first stage of treatment consists of detailed assessments and evaluations that include laboratory and imaging analyses, and consultations with different specialists. The child is examined and evaluated by a pediatrician, neurologist, psychologist, speech therapist, and psychiatrist. The laboratory panel consists of hemogram, serology testing, serum glucose, sedimentation, urine analyses, creatinine and liver functions tests. Additionally, specific testing consists of magnetic resonance brain imaging, evoked potentials, and electroencephalography. Each patient undergoes logopedic assessment, neuropsychological evaluation, Brunet-Lezine scale evaluation as well as psychotherapeutic treatment assessment. Within the first stage, parents are also introduced to the team of experts and the treatment plan is referred to the parents once completed. The phase duration is approximately one week, depending on the patient’s characteristics.
Treatment Stage 2: Therapy and Rehabilitation
The duration of actual treatment is approximately 30 days, but this may vary depending on the patient’s characteristics. The tools that are used in the treatment of autism include equine therapy, occupational treatment, language therapy, sensorial stimulation, ozone treatment and trans-cranial electric stimulation if needed (in hyperkinetic patients). Language treatment is carried out each day. In the beginning, the language rehabilitation sessions last one hour during the day, but this is extended later to two sessions each day.
Language rehabilitation usually lasts 20 days. During this treatment, the child is being constables evaluated by the experts and the progress is being monitored. Based on the effects of treatment, the language rehabilitation process is further re-tailored based on the response of each child. Therefore, each treatment protocol is being adjusted by the characteristics of each child. Language rehabilitation is broad and intensive. During each treatment, specialist conducts sensorial stimulation techniques such as facial massage. Specialized teams also work with family members or companions in order to ensure the best possible communication results. Family members or companions are taught to conduct language exercises and sensorial stimulation as continuing the language training after the child leaves the facility is essential for obtaining good treatment results.
Occupational treatment is also a very important feature of the overall rehabilitation program. This treatment aims to help the patients overcome the obstacles of physical and mental barriers present within the ASD, which restrict the everyday activities such as self-care, productivity, and participation in leisure activities. The treatment is conducted each day in two sessions. Specialists work with object identification, images projection and touching through interactive and didactic games.
As a part of occupational treatment, the children are engaged in outdoor activities. Engaging and stimulative games and exercises are being tailored for each child in order to learn about the surroundings. This treatment is also tailored based on the child’s preferences. Children are stimulated with colors, various physical activities including swimming in the pool, soccer, horseback riding etc. The specialists carefully monitor the children and adjust the program based on the child’s response to each stimulation. The length and duration of occupational therapy are also assessed based on the child’s characteristics and the progress being made with this treatment approach. This treatment has a goal to improve the patient’s productivity, physical performance, and sensorial activity.
Final Report and Recommendations
Once the treatment is considered completed, the experts will tailor the final report consisted of the diagnosis, severity, and prognosis of the ASD. Based on the vigilant monitoring of the child during each stage of treatment, the experts will issue the comprehensive recommendations for each child regarding further treatments and ASD management approaches.
Cuba is investing a lot of effort in advancing the management of children suffering from ASD. Prestigious medical centers in Cuba have programs based on the extensive international experience in autism management. Treatment protocols for ASD are in line with the globally accepted international medical standards. Cuba invests in the training of staff that deals with kids suffering from ASD. There is still a lot to be learned about ASD in order to provide the best possible treatments for ASD patient and their families. Cuba has proven to take this issue seriously and professionally.