April is National Autism Month.
There is a concern in many communities that Black children with Autism are behind in receiving the resources and assistance they need in comparison to other ethnic groups.
Raising a child with Autism is difficult for most people, but in the Black community there are additional issues that affect our families and children. Early Intervention is the key however African American children with autism are one to two years older than white children before they’re even diagnosed. This factor has to be changed in our communities.
What is Autism?
The definition of Autism is a mental condition, present from early childhood, characterized by difficulty in communicating and forming relationships with other people, and in using language and abstract concepts.
Why The Disparity In Seeking Care?
● Limited access to healthcare. Even with Medicaid, the child has limited options of physicians.
● Most of the children are seen by a different clinic doctor each time they visit. This is not consistency where a “family doctor” get to know the child and can see significant changes that need to be addressed. This in turn causes the child not to be diagnosed early enough for an effective treatment intervention.
● Distrust of Medical Community. This comes from the Tuskegee Experiment that lasted forty years where Blacks were intentionally refused treatment for syphilis without their knowledge. This has followed our medical history so many people wait before seeking treatment and most likely it is too late when they do reach a doctor.
● Class/Racism. This is not every doctor that comes in contact with a Black family but it may be a subconscious thing that allows for negative perceptions and stereotypes that cause for substandard medical care.
We have to change our mindset to ensure our children are diagnosed early and receive treatment that will enhance their lives. Finding a doctor, even at a clinic setting, that can be seen consistently will be a good start.
Behaviors To Get Checked By Physician
The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development(NICHD) lists five behaviors that warrant further evaluation:
● Does not babble or coo by 12 months
● Does not gesture (point, wave, grasp) by 12 months
● Does not say single words by 16 months
● Does not say two-word phrases on his or her own by 24 months
● Has any loss of any language or social skill at any age
Any of these five “red flags” does not mean your child has autism. But because the disorder’s symptoms vary so widely, a child showing these behaviors should be evaluated by a multidisciplinary team. This team might include a neurologist, psychologist, developmental pediatrician, speech/language therapist, learning consultant or other professionals who are knowledgeable about autism.
With appropriate services and supports, training and information, children on the autism spectrum will grow, learn and flourish, even if at a different developmental rate than others. While there is no known cure for autism, there are treatment and education approaches that can address some of the challenges associated with the condition. Intervention can help to lessen disruptive behaviors, and education can teach self-help skills for greater independence. But just as there is no one symptom or behavior that identifies people with autism, there is no single treatment that will be effective for everyone on the spectrum. Individuals can use the positive aspects of their condition to their benefit, but treatment must begin as early as possible and focus on the individual’s unique strengths, weaknesses and needs.
If you are needing services or assistance or learn more about how the Black Community is impacted please see the following links:
Story information courtesy of the Autism Society Organization, NPR and Autism In Black.
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Damita Miller-Shanklin, Ujima Magazine