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Race, Ethnicity May Influence Access To Autism Care

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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.

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Comments (4 Responses)

  1. Jon K. Evans says:

    I am NOT SURPRISED. Remember! People see the Minority part first. In my case, I was lucky. By getting my education, questions were asked about my continual struggling even on the most basic functions. That is when the Autism was discovered-at Age 47!

  2. vmgillen says:

    Give us news we can use. 3,600 treated in clinic – with what presenting symptoms, for heaven’s sake? THAT’S where things would get interesting. Did people of the non-caucasian persuasion complain of GI problems and did not receive attention appropriate to the complaint? Far more noteworthy is the mis-diagnosis – i.e. “emotionally disturbed” where ASD is correct…

  3. Andrew Rhodes says:

    “We think there are probably many reasons for these differences,”

    “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.”

    “…and be sure to look out for patients — especially minority patients …”

    So, despite the still not FULLY understood symptoms and the interplay they have on Autism, and how each and every doctor is an individual and may have their own views regarding this complex condition, despite there being attempts to consolidate the views through various research and journal efforts, they would STILL want to turn a blind eye to a segment of the population of Autism patients by giving EXTRA attention to “minority patients”.

    And this is supposed to help the OVERALL population of Autism patients… how?

  4. KA101 says:

    It’s an unfortunate fact that racism still affects USian society. Even assuming that currently nobody anywhere in the US has any racist feelings or thoughts (which is a…pretty generous…assumption), the effects of previous racism persist.

    Thus, it’s no surprise that ethnic minorities may not be able to obtain diagnostics or services. Fixing that is laudable, and a good use of resources.

    re Rhodes: I’m not sure how encouraging professionals to be alert for nonwhite autistics somehow harms the autistic population. There’s enough autism to go around.
    If it’s a question of limited services, well, the day we start denying admission to the spectrum, lest we have to share, is the day we start losing services altogether because our infighting makes us ignorable.

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