Autism Speaks and National Black Church Initiative Seek to Reduce Age of Autism Diagnosis

Collaboration to address racial disparities, lower the age of diagnosis and improve access to services to improve outcomes for children with autism

New York, N.Y. (June 21, 2013) – Autism Speaks, the world’s leading autism science and advocacy organization, and the National Black Church Initiative (NBCI), today announced their new collaboration seeking to reduce the average age of diagnosis and to increase access to high-quality early intervention for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in the African American community. The collaboration will be piloted in 150 churches in the greater Atlanta area as part of the Autism Speaks Early Access to Care initiative. Outreach into these congregations will increase awareness of the signs of autism and inform congregants, their extended families, and community of available resources and services.

“Studies clearly demonstrate that signs of autism can emerge as early as six to 12 months and that there are effective tools to screen children for autism risk as early as one year and to provide a reliable diagnosis as early as 24 months,” stated Autism Speaks Assistant Director of Public Health Research Amy Daniels, Ph.D. “Yet, children in the African American community are typically diagnosed even much later than the four to five years of age which is the average age of autism diagnosis in the United States according to the CDC.”

While early detection is critical to initiate early intervention therapies for optimal outcomes, many parents have very little knowledge about autism and its symptoms. When children with ASD are treated with appropriate early intervention services between the ages of three and five years, approximately 20 to 50 percent of those children may be able to be mainstreamed.

“NBCI is honored to work with Autism Speaks on this critical health issue, which hits close to home for the African American community. Racial disparities in early detection and access to care and diagnostic information are a real concern for the black church, and NBCI pledges to serve as a tireless advocate and community leader to raise awareness on these issues,” said  Rev. Anthony Evans, President of the National Black Church Initiative. “We look forward to working with the experts at Autism Speaks and our Atlanta member churches in the coming weeks and months for the sake of our children’s well-being.”

Through this collaboration, Autism Speaks will provide written and other collateral materials which can be used by these churches to help their congregations understand developmental milestones and the possible signs of autism.

Parents will be provided information regarding standardized screening tools used to assess if a child is at risk for ASD and provide guidance to parents on how to speak with their healthcare provider. Information provided by Autism Speaks will be given on where and who to contact for further evaluation and early intervention services. Children under the age of three are eligible for evaluation provided at no cost through the state’s early intervention office. Local Atlanta-based resources include Babies First, the Marcus Center, the Emory Autism Center and the CDC.

Should a diagnosis of ASD follow, parents can find extensive information on the website AutismSpeaks.org – starting with the Resource Guide which helps families find links to local services and then through a series of Tool Kits that offer guidance from the first 100 days after a diagnosis through adulthood.

“We continue to make significant progress in autism research,” added Autism Speaks Chief Science Officer Robert H. Ring, Ph.D. "It is critically important to put science into action, to have the research we support work for the community and make a real difference in people's lives. We hope to make a significant difference by substantially lowering the age of diagnosis for so many children at risk."

Following this pilot phase in Atlanta, Autism Speaks and NBCI will assess progress and outcomes before expanding it to other regions across the United States. For more information about the collaboration visit the NBCI website and for information about the Autism Speaks Early Access to Care initiative, visit: http://www.autismspeaks.org/early-access-care.

In addition to Early Access to Care, Autism Speaks and the Ad Council recently launched the “Maybe” campaign, a new series of public service advertisements (PSAs) designed to reach African American and Hispanic parents. The PSAs, which were distributed to media outlets nationwide last month, show some of the early signs of autism and encourage parents to take immediate action if their child is not meeting standard developmental milestones.

About Autism
Autism is a general term used to describe a group of complex developmental brain disorders – autism spectrum disorders – caused by a combination of genes and environmental influences. These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by communication difficulties, social and behavioral challenges, as well as repetitive behaviors. An estimated one in 88 children in the U.S. is on the autism spectrum – a 78 percent increase in six years that is only partly explained by improved diagnosis.

About Autism Speaks
Autism Speaks is the world’s leading autism science and advocacy organization. It is dedicated to funding research into the causes, prevention, treatments and a cure for autism; increasing awareness of autism spectrum disorders; and advocating for the needs of individuals with autism and their families. Autism Speaks was founded in February 2005 by Suzanne and Bob Wright, the grandparents of a child with autism. Mr. Wright is the former vice chairman of General Electric and chief executive officer of NBC and NBC Universal. Since its inception, Autism Speaks has committed more than $195 million to research and developing innovative resources for families. Each year Walk Now for Autism Speaks events are held in more than 95 cities across North America. On the global front, Autism Speaks has established partnerships and related activities in more than 40 countries on five continents to foster international research, services and awareness. To learn more about Autism Speaks, please visit www.AutismSpeaks.org