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Doctors Often Ill-Equipped To Diagnose Latinos On The Spectrum


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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.

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Comments (3 Responses)

  1. Whitney says:

    I am not going say this race issue. For one thing I find most doctors having problems relating autism despite what the ethnicity is. Mental illnesses is still is a stigma no matter what the culture is. Especially within the Autism community. Hispanics are not noted for tolerance developmental disabilities of any kind. I can make this observation because I went predominant Hispanic school and live in same type of area.

  2. I. Oliva says:

    Not surprising! This is a very old problem which still is not being resolved. Hispanic children are more likely to be diagnosed or classified as Intellectuallly disabled or emotionally disturbed. It is certain that most hispanic families still tend to be bother by the stigma of mental health issues in most of their cultures, however there is an institutional apathy coming from medical, educational, mental health providers towards these cultures engendered still by stereotypes. Perphaps the only way is still doing outreach to both the families and providers in discussing ways to inform and disseminate creatively information about ASD symptoms.

  3. Tashi says:

    is this about culture or is it more socio-economic status and immigration. I mean this study found Hispanics as compared to typical white parents but I don’t see where/if there was control for SES and/or immigration status.

    It really bothers me when such “broad” statements are made w/o accounting for other factors especially such simple but vital components such as parent education levels, SES, location (rural, urban etc.). I would also be curious about immigration b/c the article implies that the parents are non-English speakers so …. does it hold true despite time in the US, would this “white” vs. Hispanic is it “American” vs. “Hispanic” or were racially “white” immigrants also part of the study and their immigration status taken into consideration.

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