A new survey suggests that pediatricians are having a particularly tough time spotting Latino children who have autism.
Doctors say that assessing risk for autism is difficult in Spanish-speaking families and a multitude of issues are contributing to delayed diagnosis, according to findings from a poll of 267 California pediatricians.
Just one in 10 physicians surveyed said they perform recommended autism and developmental screenings in Spanish. Common obstacles cited by doctors when working with Latino families included difficulty with communication, cultural barriers and a lack of access to autism specialists, researchers found.
Notably, pediatricians also indicated that they believed that Latino parents — whether English or Spanish-speaking — are less knowledgeable about autism than white parents.
The survey findings published online Monday in the journal Pediatrics help explain why Latino children are diagnosed with autism two-and-a-half years later on average than white kids. Understanding why diagnosis is delayed in some children is important, experts say, because intervention is often most successful when it’s started early.
“We were surprised to learn how low the screening rates are among Latino children and how difficult primary care pediatricians report it is to screen Latino children for ASDs,” said Katherine Zuckerman, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Oregon Health & Science University who led the study. “We hope this data will help inform future interventions to reduce racial and ethnic differences in ASD care.”
Zuckerman and her colleagues indicated that it may help to provide families with culturally-sensitive materials about autism and to encourage language-appropriate screenings. What’s more, they said steps need to be taken to make specialists more available and to help support pediatricians so that they can make more timely referrals for Latino children at risk for autism.