A survey of pediatricians suggests that language barriers in the doctor’s office and a lack of culturally appropriate awareness materials contribute to a lag in early diagnosis of autism among Latino families. Previous research had shown that Latino children were being diagnosed less often and later than non-minority children. The new study investigated the potential role that pediatricians play in this gap. The report appears today in the journal Pediatrics.
Survey identifies potential obstacles
Researchers with Oregon Health & Science University looked at developmental and autism screening among 267 California pediatricians in 2011 and 2012. They found that only 1 in 10 offered both of these recommended screenings in Spanish.
Most of the pediatricians reported that they had particular difficulty identifying autism risk in families who spoke primarily Spanish. This was true even among physicians whose patient population was more than a quarter Latino. Most of the pediatricians also voiced the opinion that autism awareness was lower in Latino families than in non-minority families. And three in four singled out communication and cultural issues as obstacles to early diagnosis.
However, the pediatricians identified a general lack of developmental and autism specialists as the biggest barrier to early diagnosis – a problem common across all communities.
“This adds to research that has consistently documented disparities in the identification of autism in Latino as compared to other children,” comments Autism Speaks Chief Science Officer Rob Ring. “In particular, it gives us evidence of the crucial role that pediatricians play and the barriers they perceive.” Further research needs to go beyond pediatricians to directly include Latino families and their experiences and perceptions, Dr. Ring adds.
To close the gap in autism diagnosis of Latino children, the researchers called for the development and distribution of culturally appropriate educational materials to families. They also urged pediatricians to offer more language-appropriate screening for developmental delays and autism.
A new study is taking a closer look at diagnosing Latino children with Autism, and why it takes a little longer. Darius was diagnosed with Autism at the age of 2, and his younger brother is being evaluated now at only 18 months. But on average, most Latino children are diagnosed 2 and a half years later than other children. A new study of 267 California pediatricians shows that only about 1 in 10 performs the recommended screening test in Spanish.
The Mojicas are not alone. A study published in the Pediatrics Journal finds that Latino children are typically diagnosed with autism more than two years later than white children.
"All of the research has consistently shown that Latino children are not diagnosed at the same rate as white children," says Lauren Elder, a psychologist with Autism Speaks. "There's no reason to think that's a true difference in the prevalence of autism."
Autism Speaks tackling the challenge
“Autism Speaks is engaged in a national grassroots campaign to reach and educate underserved and minority communities about the signs, care and treatment for autism,” says Autism Speaks President Liz Feld. In particular, Ms. Feld highlights the following programs and resources:
Autism Speaks Early Access to Care initiative aims to reduce the average age of diagnosis and increase access to high-quality early intervention for all children, with a special emphasis on minority and underserved communities. (Aquí, en Español.) This includes partnering with community leaders to translate and culturally adapt materials and sponsor community screening events. Autism Speaks has also called for funding proposals from researchers interested in improving screening, diagnosis and intervention in underserved communities.
Autism Speaks Family Services offer a number of Spanish-language resources. They include:
* Autism Speaks Manual de los 100 Días (100 Day Tool Kit)
* Autism Speaks Autismo Respuesta Línea Directa (Autism Response Team Hotline): 888-772-9050
* Autism Speaks Biblioteca de Recursos (Autism Resource Library) [Autism Speaks resources in other languages here]
Autism Speaks Advocacy staff have met and will continue to meet with minority caucus leaders in Congress to help them inform and educate their constituents.
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