NEWARK, N.J. — Individuals on the autism spectrum are just as capable as anyone else of having an enjoyable, meaningful life. However, it’s important that children who show signs of autism be properly diagnosed as quickly as possible, as early detection can go a long way towards improving quality of life. That’s why the findings of a new study are so concerning. Researchers at Rutgers University say that an astounding one-fourth of U.S. children under the age of eight with autism spectrum disorder are not being diagnosed. The majority of these undiagnosed children are African-American or Hispanic.
Overall, these findings indicate that while autism awareness is on the rise, a great deal of work still must be done. Particularly in black and Hispanic communities across the nation.
Education and medical records for over 265,000 children who were eight years old in 2014 were analyzed for the study. Included areas featured a variety of states, such as Wisconsin, Maryland, and Arizona, among many others. The study’s authors looked to see how many of those children showed signs of autism but were not formally diagnosed or receiving any medical services.
A total of 4,500 children with autism symptoms were identified, and of that group a full 25% had not been diagnosed. Again, a large portion of that group consisted of black or Hispanic children who showed clear deficiencies in their mental abilities, social skills, and daily living activities. Despite all of that, those children were not considered disabled.
“There may be various reasons for the disparity, from communication or cultural barriers between minority parents and physicians to anxiety about the complicated diagnostic process and fear of stigma,” comments study co-author and associate professor Walter Zahorodny in a release. “Also, many parents whose children are diagnosed later often attribute their first concerns to a behavioral or medical issue rather than a developmental problem.”
Zahorodny recommends that all school-aged children, starting as young as toddlers, be periodically screened for autism. If language is a barrier for the parents of these children, researchers suggest the use of pictures or translators in order to ensure that parents understand exactly what their child has been diagnosed with, as well as potential treatment options moving forward.
On the state level, researchers also believe insurance companies should be required to cover early autism intervention services in the event a child is identified as being at a high risk of developing autism, as opposed to waiting until a formal diagnosis.
The study is published in Autism Research.