(Lead teacher Jane Good helps Ari Anthony Almonte Vasquez with his motor control as he counts hamburgers using an iPad. Preschoolers with autism use iPads to learn literacy skills – a new innovative approach the school is using to deal with a growing population of students with autism. (Photo by Joanne Rathe/The Boston Globe via Getty Images))

Autism not diagnosed as early in Latino children, says study

An autism study released earlier this month has shown that children from a minority background show more severe symptoms of the disorder than Caucasian children. The new research at the Kennedy Krieger Institute concluded that although the prevalence of autism spectrum disorders does not differ across racial and ethnic groups, as previous studies have shown, children of African American, Hispanic and Asian descent are less likely to receive an early diagnosis than Caucasian children.

“We found the toddlers in the minority group were significantly further behind than the non-minority group in development of language and motor skills and showed more severe autism symptoms in their communication abilities,” says Dr. Rebecca Landa, director of the Center for Autism and Related Disorders at the Kennedy Krieger Institute, whose study compared 19 minority to 65 Caucasian children and their parents. The majority of parents were from the upper classes irrespective of ethnicity. “It’s really troubling when we look at these data alongside diagnosis statistics because they suggest that children in need of early detection and intervention are not getting it.”

Dr. Valeria Cristiani, MD, Community Pediatrics at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. has been working with children with autism, a large percentage of which are from Latino families, for about 15 years, agrees.

She says the reason for not diagnosing autism early in Latino children may come from many different reasons, including lack of access to health care, lack of education, cultural differences, and a failure to recognize symptoms. She concurs with Landa that early diagnosis is crucial.

Michael Rosanoff, Associate Director of Public Health Research at Autism Speaks says that their research shows that economic factors play a role in minority children not getting earlier treatment. He says that children with parents of lower socio-economic standing may experience barriers that limit them access to services.

However, Cristiani says families just need to get educated. There are many free programs and resources that can be found by contacting your primary care provider, pediatrician, local public health office or school district. One helpful site she recommends highly is CHADD.

“The earlier the detection, the earlier the prognosis,” says Cristiani.

Tynan Elementary School in South Boston is one school that proves this.

“We are able to have children get diagnosed earlier,” says spokesman for the school, Matt Wilder. “Students come in at 3 to 4-years-old that require services and get help early on so by that the time they enter Kindergarten, they no longer need services.”

Cristiani says the following are the primary symptoms of autism to look out for: problems with communication or language, your child might not be able to say words; poor social interaction, including little eye contact or smiling; and being very interested in one particular toy or very rigid.

Once your child is diagnosed, the earlier he/she can receive proper care such as behavioral therapy and medicine can help tremendously. 

Cristiani finds that Latino families tend to be more reluctant in giving their children medication. She says that all drugs have risks and benefits, but the benefits of autism medicine are positive and safe as long as it is used correctly. Make sure that it doesn’t give your child headaches, insomnia or stomach aches.

“Behavioral therapy is good, but it works better when used in combination with medicine,” says Cristiani.


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