Cynthia Johnson, PhD

Cynthia Johnson, Ph.D.

Cynthia Johnson PhD

Director, Cleveland Clinic Children’s Center for Autism

Cynthia Johnson, PhD, is working with two federally funded studies focusing on addressing sleep problems and comparing intensive behavior therapies in young children with autism.



Delivering sleep intervention via telehealth platform

In the area of sleep, Dr. Johnson plans to conduct a study that will compare the efficacies of two parent-focused programs — the Sleep Parent Training program (SPT) and the Parent Educational Program (PEP) — both delivered via Cleveland Clinic Express Care, in 90 children with autism with moderate or greater sleep disturbance. In addition, the study aims to evaluate the impact of both programs on child and parent quality of life through measurable parameters such as child daytime behavior, parental stress and confidence, and mental health.

The training program provides parents with practical tools and suggestions for improving the child’s bedtime routine, such as self-soothing techniques, while PEP provides useful information about their child’s diagnosis and information about accessing services for their child.

The 4-year study is funded by a $1 million award from the Department of Defense (DOD) and is expected to start recruiting patients in November 2018. One of the unique aspects is the planned video delivery of the intervention.

Comparing behavior interventions

Dr. Johnson is directing a multi-site study focused on comparing early intensive behavior intervention (EIBI) with less intensive, time-limited applied behavior analysis (ABA) intervention in children with autism.

The primary goal of the 6-month study is to compare the key child and parent outcomes at three different timepoints – after 24 weeks of intervention, at the 24-week follow-up visit, and at 5 years of age. The study is funded by a $7 million award from DOD and plans to recruit a total of 130 children across the collaborative network, of which 26 will be enrolled at Cleveland Clinic.

Early Intervention of chronic feeding problems

Dr. Johnson and colleagues just recently completed a study on the treatment of feeding problems.

In collaboration with researchers from the University of Rochester, she recently published a study assessing the impact of an 11-session parent training intervention for feeding. The study stems from her earlier work at the University of Florida and serves as the foundation of her ongoing research at Cleveland Clinic.

“During those 11 sessions, parents worked with a therapist who provided guidance on how to best influence their child’s eating habits and increase their overall compliance through preventive approaches, systematic exposure to new foods and a carefully-selected reward system,” explains Dr. Johnson.

The feeding problems addressed in the study include food selectivity, food refusal and disruptive mealtime behaviors.

“This intervention proved successful in improving children’s food acceptance, as well as reducing parental stress levels and building their confidence,” she says. “In cooperation with our collaborators from the University of Rochester we are planning to conduct a larger-scale study that will investigate the association between food selectivity and sensory differences, which are often seen in children with autism.”