Autism, a brain-related developmental disorder that impairs one’s ability to socialize with others and speak, affects all children regardless of race and ethnicity.
It also appears to be on the rise. A 2012 study found that while a reliable diagnosis can be made between the ages of 18 and 24 months, the average child in the U.S. is diagnosed with autism when they are 4.5 years old. But Black and Latino children are more likely to be diagnosed a year and a half later than their white counterparts.
The ads, which are both in English and Spanish, show parents questioning if certain behaviors — lack of eye contact, lack of responsive behavior, lack of smiles and affection — could mean autism.
Over the next months, the campaign will roll out television commercials, bus ads and billboards. They are also tapping into mobile phones as a means to reach the masses. There is a texting component that encourages parents to Text “MAYBE” to 30644 in order to receive information about the six main warning signs to watch for.
Dana Marnane, vice president of communications and awareness for Autism Speaks, talked to BET.com about the importance of recognizing these warning signs early on.
“For children who get early interventions at a younger age, 20 to 50 percent of them are able to integrate into mainstream kindergarten,” she says. “For children who aren’t diagnosed until 7 or 8, crucial time to treat may have passed.”
Marnane admits that they are not sure why these gaps exist. Past Autism Speaks surveys show that stigma, poverty, lack of health care and cultural beliefs may be to blame. “One of our surveys for Latinos found that some parents have to make a decision: Either pay for the co-pay to get my child screened or put food on the table,” she says.
And while a PSA alone can't alleviate these structural issues, Marnane emphasized that “Maybe” is part of a larger five-year plan her organization has to address screening barriers. Autism Speaks recently launched their Early Access to Care Initiative in hopes to increase access to testing and evidence based early interventions.
This push to raise awareness among communities of color and address our cultural complexities seems right on time.
Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 1 in 88 U.S. children has an autism spectrum disorder and that the largest increase of diagnoses occurred among children of color.
Watch the “Maybe” PSAs here.
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