According to the federal Centers for Disease Control’s latest figures, 1 in every 50 children has some form of autism. Boys are four times more likely than girls to be diagnosed with the disorder. The overall figure, based on 2011-2012 data of diagnoses reported by parents, is significantly higher than the 1 in 86 estimate in 2007.
The biggest increase was found among black and Latino children, who were found to be less likely to get an early diagnosis and treatment. Some are initially misdiagnosed as having Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or a conduct or adjustment disorder. Many children, especially in low-income families, have less access to medical care, overall, so families may miss signs of the disorder thinking the child has an odd personality or a slight developmental lag that cannot be fixed. Sometimes, families are just simply in denial that there is a problem.
Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are a group of neurological and developmental disabilities that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges. Delayed speech, lack of interest in playing with one’s peers and an intense, almost obsessive play with toys or household objects are among some of the signs that a trip to a pediatric specialist may be in order.
Health experts say much can be done to help many children with autism spectrum disorders if they can be diagnosed before their second birthdays.
Dr. Adiaha Spinks Franklin, a pediatrician at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston who focuses on child development, is currently studying healthcare disparities in children with autism spectrum disorders.
Her research to date confirms earlier findings that black American children are underrepresented when it comes to identifying autism spectrum disorder and she is trying to pinpoint the reasons behind those findings.
In addition to better treatment, an early diagnosis often enables more ASD children to find success in school and work. Increasing numbers of students who got help early are being prepared for and admitted to college. Currently, about a dozen U.S. colleges and universities offer programs to help high performing ASD students to get admitted and successfully navigate college.
According to The Color of Autism Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to assisting black families with autistic children, the Children’s Research Unit at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, New York, is conducting a study to determine the genetic causes of autism in African Americans.