Language problems cause delays diagnosing autism in Latino children

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Language barriers significantly contribute to delays in diagnosing Latino children with autism, according to a study published August 19. Almost 75 percent of primary care pediatricians (PCPs) experienced problems with communication and cultural differences when assessing Latino children, reports Dr. Katherine Zuckerman from Oregon Health and Sciences University and her colleagues. The study, published in Pediatrics, surveyed 267 primary care pediatricians in California.
Autism in Latino children is diagnosed almost two and a half years later than white children. Furthermore, when Latino children receive an autism diagnosis, their symptoms are more severe. The most frequent problems reported by the pediatricians surveyed were:
  • Inadequate access to ASD (autism spectrum disorder) or developmental specialists
  • Language differences between the doctor and patient or patient’s family
  • Insufficient access to primary care
  • Cultural differences between the pediatrician and patient
  • Parents not understanding of the importance of diagnosing autism early
“Early autism identification improves child and family outcomes, but autism is challenging to identify in the primary care setting. Our study shows that autism is even more difficult to identify in children whose families speak a language other than English. The findings suggest that, if we want to reduce the age of autism identification in Latinos, pediatricians need more support," Dr. Zuckerman told 2 Minute Medicine™.
The study makes the following recommendations:
  • Improvement in Spanish language autism screening overall
  • Production of developmental screening materials in Spanish
  • Development of educational materials for pediatricians on bilingualism and language development
  • Education of medical providers on the “accurate interpretation of screening results in less-acculturated Latinos”
  • Education of pediatricians on strategies to use when discussing autism with people from other cultures
The study is reported as "Pediatrician Identification of Latino Children at Risk for Autism Spectrum Disorder."
Some efforts have already been made to increase autism awareness among non-English speakers. Autism Speaks started a program called “Early Access to Care Initiative in Spanish.” This program provided training to Spanish speaking families who had a child with autism. The program resulted in the production of educational materials on autism for Spanish speaking families. Additionally, the book, "Autism Inspires! Hope As A Mother's Savior" by Lena McCalla Njee, a special education teacher, provides information and resources on autism. This book was translated into Spanish.
Medline Plus also provides information on autism in Spanish.
Information on autism is available from the Centers for Disease Control.
This article was originally published by me on

©Mary M Conneely T/A Advocacy in Action

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