Black children with autism tend to be diagnosed later than white children with the disorder, and this delay can lead to longer and more intensive treatment, researchers say.
Lack of access to quality, affordable and culturally knowledgeable health care is among the reasons for the delay in a diagnosis of autism in black children, said researcher Martell Teasley, an associate professor in the College of Social Work at Florida State University in Tallahassee.
Teasley also suggested that social stigma attached to mental health issues within the black community may add to the problem. Some black parents may find it hard to accept that their child has autism, so even when the disorder is diagnosed, there may be a reluctance to use autism treatment services.
Misdiagnosis is also a potential problem, the study authors noted.
"There are no subjective criteria for diagnosing autism. Only brain scans can truly provide appropriate diagnoses, because we are dealing with biological and chemical imbalances in the brain," Teasley said in a university news release. "Not every child is going to have access to this kind of medical evaluation, particularly those who are indigent and don't have healthcare funding."
The findings from Teasley and colleagues were published in a special online edition of the Journal Social Work in Public Health, which dealt specifically with healthcare issues in the black community.
"Less discussion about autism among African Americans or between African Americans and healthcare providers leads to misdiagnoses, a lack of treatment and a lack of services," Teasley pointed out in the news release. "This will lead to greater challenges for families – more stress and anxiety, and poorer developmental outcomes."
The rate of autism diagnosis is the same among children of all racial groups, one in 110, according to estimates. But later diagnosis among black children can be harmful.
"Intervention for any autistic child needs to start around age 3, so we can get the child to begin to learn how to eat right and develop normal, healthy routines, which will result in a better developmental outcome," Teasley said. "Later intervention will result in a poorer developmental outcome that can have a lasting impact on the child's and family's quality of life."
(HealthDay, February 2012)
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