Minorities with autism are far less likely than those who are white to receive care from specialists for co-occurring medical conditions associated with the developmental disorder, a new study finds.
Many with autism experience gastrointestinal issues, trouble sleeping and other health problems. But a first-of-its kind report suggests that there are wide disparities in treatment for these concurrent symptoms.
Researchers looked at medical records from over 3,600 individuals ages 2 to 21 with autism who were treated at Massachusetts General Hospital or its affiliates between 2000 and 2010, analyzing each clinical visit to assess what types of specialty care or procedures occurred.
They found that those from minority backgrounds were significantly less likely than their white peers to have received an endoscopy or colonoscopy. At the same time, while 14 percent of white individuals with autism had accessed gastroenterology services, just 9 percent of blacks and 10 percent of Hispanics had done so.
“We think there are probably many reasons for these differences,” said Sarabeth Broder-Fingert of the Center for Child and Adolescent Health Research and Policy at Massachusetts General Hospital and the lead author of the report being published in the July issue of the journal Pediatrics. “Many autism-related medical symptoms — including gastrointestinal issues like constipation and neuropsychiatric issues such as anxiety or sleep disorders — are not well understood, so doctors may not realize children are having those symptoms.”
Access to specialty care is particularly important, the study authors said, because when co-occurring conditions go untreated, they can lead to behavior problems that inhibit further development.
“We hope this work can help doctors be aware of these disparities and be sure to look out for patients — especially minority patients — who might need specialty services, and that we can help parents of children with autism be aware that these conditions may occur in their children and ask their doctors for assistance,” Broder-Fingert said.