How to Successfully Screen Latino Toddlers for Autism


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A few years ago, only 1 in 10 Latino children were screened for autism when they came in for well-child visits at Unity Health Care’s Upper Cardozo Health Center in Washington, D.C.

None were flagged for autism.

The problem?

Latino parents often misunderstood the center’s written autism screening questions. Questions were designed for English speakers and, even when translated into Spanish, tended to mystify or confuse Spanish speakers, Spectrum News reports.

The answer?

latina girl student school classA Georgetown University researcher created a culturally and linguistically tailored oral screening test where clinicians asked Latino parents the autism questions. Trained multilingual interviewers, and later center clinicians, gave the oral screening to parents.

Of 1,400 children screened, 4% were flagged for autism.

“One of the real lessons to learn about this kind of work is, you can’t just come in and say, ‘We’re going to do this screener and everything is going to work fine,'” study researcher, Dr. Bruno Anthony of the Georgetown University’s Center for Child and Human Development, told Spectrum News based on his unpublished presented at the 2017 International Meeting for Autism Research in San Francisco, California.

“Instead, staff need to address parents’ worries about how their answers will be used or what happens if their child is flagged for autism.”

What is Autism?

Autism spectrum disorder is a developmental brain disorder that affects how a child communicates, relates to people, and experiences the world around him, BabyCenter reports.

It’s a “spectrum” condition, which means the symptoms can range from very mild to severe.

Without treatment, autism can be debilitating even for children with the mildest symptoms, limiting their independence and draining a family’s resources.

Austim and Latinos

Screening tools, like the one at the Upper Cardozo Health Center, are improving autism diagnosis.

But Latino children are about one-third less likely than white children to get an autism diagnosis, BabyCenter reports.

“No one knows exactly why this discrepancy exists, but some contributing factors include a lack of access to quality health insurance, the language barrier, and differing cultural beliefs,” according to the report. “There’s no cure for autism, but experts say early intervention is crucial.”

One of the first studies to explore Latino families with a history of autism reveals that parents of children with the condition show some autism features themselves, Spectrum News reports.

Learn more about autism from Austim Speaks.

Autism speaks also offers personal guidance to connect families to information, tools and resources, in English at 888-288-4762 and Spanish at 888-772-9050.

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