Why are our Black children being diagnosed with autism later than white children?
African-American children with autism are being diagnosed almost two years later than children of any other ethnic group, holding up their treatment, and in turn, their quality of life, according to research.
The average white child is diagnosed around six years old, while Black children are not diagnosed until they're almost eight. It may only seem like a small difference in time, but early treatment is the key to reducing the challenges parents stand to face ahead. It’s been found that though most Black parents start asking their pediatrician questions around the two years old mark, they're usually brushed aside and told that the child will be fine or that they are just a late bloomer.
Autism is a disorder that causes children to lag behind other children in terms of speech, behavior and the way they develop, as well as dealing with everyday tasks. Common early warning signs are noticing your child seems to have trouble with hearing you or talking to you. It can be diagnosed at as early as 18 months, but it's easy for it to go undetected because the aggressive, hyper, eccentric behavior and habits related to autism can easily be viewed as misbehavior.
The most well-known type of autism is autistic disorder, which affects the way children communicate and interact in social situations, but there are four other spectrums of this disorder. Children with Asperger's syndrome share the social issues that the ones with autistic disorder deal with, but they don't have any language issues and score normal to above average on intelligence tests. Rett syndrome is usually found in girls who start off with average development but begin to lose skills around ages one and four, while children with childhood disintegrative disorder don’t lose skills until even later, usually beginning long after the children are two. Not all cases are cut and dry, though, and a child with symptoms from more than one of the spectrums may have pervasive developmental disorder, which takes symptoms from every group.
When white children were misdiagnosed with autism they were usually told they had ADHD, but Mandell discovered that Black autistic children were told they had things like psychoses, mental retardation or selective mutism. This, along with the fear that Black parents have of reporting their child's behavioral issues due to the fact that their children are removed from the home as a result more often, makes it hard for Black children with autism to get the treatment that they need.
No one knows exactly what causes autism, but it’s been linked to irregularities in the brain. (There is also a school of thought that believes the disease is related to vaccinations, but that research has been widely debunked.) Right now there's no cure for the disorder, but the two more classic types of treatments for autism are counseling, to help the child develop the speaking and social skills they're missing, and medication. Some of the prescriptions given are the same as those prescribed to patients with anxiety, depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder. In severe cases an antipsychotic may even be prescribed.
If you think your child may have autism, your first step is to make an appointment with your pediatrician. Your child will be evaluated to see if they’ve reached the developmental milestones that a child at their age should have.
Here are a few tips for parents with autistic children:
—Learn everything you can about autism. The more you know the easier it will be to manage and understand your child.
—Keep a journal of every supplement, behavior and treatment. It will help when you're tracking the causes and effects during new treatments.
—Join a support group.
—Find a DAN doctor (Defeat Autism Now) in your area. These are clinicians specially trained by the Autism Research Institute to treat autism.
—Find a Generation Rescue Angel in your area for answers and advice from parents who’ve been in your shoes.
—Ask your child's primary care doctor for a referral to a speech pathologist, occupational therapist and ABA specialist.
(Photo: Newhouse News Service /Landov)