African-American children are diagnosed much later with autism than white children, according to a new study published in the journal Social Work and Public Health. Currently, 1 in 110 children in the US is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, which occurs across all demographic groups. But African-American children are likely to be diagnosed at least 1.5 years later than white children. Martell Teasley, an associate professor in the College of Social Work at Florida State University in Tallahassee, says that a lack of access to quality, affordable and culturally knowledgeable health care are among the reasons for the delay.
But Teasley also says that the “social stigma attached to mental health issues within the black community” may also play a role. Such leads to “less discussion about autism among African Americans or between African Americans and health care providers”; even a child receives an autism diagnosis, families may be reluctant to seek treatment and services. African-American families may indeed “resist” a diagnosis, Teasley notes, because of past experiences of discrimination with medical professionals:
“African-Americans are well versed in going to a doctor who might have biases or discriminatory practices, so they may not readily accept what a doctor says.”
Another potential problem is misdiagnosis. Scientists are seeking a biomarker for autism, but the neurodevelopental disorder is currently diagnosed based on the observations of a team of medical and psychological professionals according to criteria in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM) (and the criteria for autism spectrum disorders are currently under review and a controversial revision has been proposed).
Furthermore, Teasley points out that the majority of African-Americans live in urban areas, where the number of mental health services has declined since the 1980s.
Later diagnosis leads to addressing a child’s educational and other needs when he or she is older. Teasley points out that “later intervention will result in a poorer developmental outcome that can have a lasting impact on the child’s and family’s quality of life.”
Artist Leironica Hawkins and the “Invisible Disability” of Asperger’s
Leironica Hawkins was not diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome until she was 28 years old. She grew up in Crown Heights in Brooklyn and had “tics” such as self-rocking and involuntary hand twitches. She has never received treatment for Asperger’s and has had a number of “short-lived jobs and psychiatric difficulties.”
A New York Times article says that, after being placed in a hospital, she has been living a Lower East Side shelter for people with disabilities but “the yelling, the perfumes and air fresheners, the byzantine regulations” make her anxious and could bring on panic attacks, so she spends the days wandering Manhattan’s maze of streets and in museums and the New York Public Library. A talented artist, she has created a 22-page comic book, “Asperger’s Syndrome: An Invisible Disability“:
The comedic story line acts as something of a primer on the condition, with three teenage characters with Asperger’s, including the autobiographical Andrea, a klutz who has problems multi-tasking and following the boss’s directions. She cannot hold a job and at one point throws a furious tantrum and punches holes in a door, and then loses her job and her apartment.
Had Hawkins’ Aspergers’ been diagnosed earlier, what might her life had been like? How might her talents have been cultivated?
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