According to researchers, 6.3 percent of Hispanic children in the study met criteria for autism and developmental issues, compared to 2.4 percent of non-Hispanic white participants, but they had never been diagnosed.
“Autism and developmental delays tend to go undiagnosed when parents are not aware of the signs to look for, and the conditions are often misdiagnosed when parents don’t have access to adequate developmental surveillance and screening,” said Dr. Virginia Chaidez, lead author and postdoctoral researcher in the UC Davis Department of Public Health Sciences.
“Our study raises concerns about access to accurate, culturally relevant information regarding developmental milestones and the importance of early detection and treatment,” she added.
To investigate the prevalence of autism in the U.S. Hispanic population, the UC Davis team examined data gathered from the Childhood Autism Risk from Genetics and the Environment (CHARGE) study, which included information from more than 1,000 children in California between the ages of 24 and 60 months. The children were then separated into three groups: those with autism, those with normal development and those with developmental delays but no diagnosis of autism.
The team then enlisted the aid of bilingual clinicians to evaluate the Hispanic children in the study, which is the largest to-date in its kind.
“Our goal was to use the CHARGE study to help fill the gaps in research on autism for Hispanics so we can better understand what autism is like for this growing U.S. population,” said Irva Hertz-Picciotto, professor of public health sciences, researcher with the UC Davis MIND Institute and principal investigator of CHARGE. “No other study of autism has included such a large proportion of Hispanic children.”
What the evidence revealed was both Hispanic and non-Hispanic white participants shared more similarities than differences when it came to autism profiles; however, researchers were stunned to find 6.3 percent of the randomly chosen Hispanic participants met the criteria for developmental delay, compared to only 2.4 percent of non-Hispanic whites.
Approximately 19 percent of all the study participants met the criteria for undiagnosed autism, concerning researchers that some children do not have the proper access to developmental assessments.
Another discovery from the study came about when the study pool was narrowed down to include only the bilingual children; using that criteria, researchers found children who were spoken to in a language other than English, 25 to 50 percent of the time, had lower standardized tests scores, which resulted in lower cognitive scoring.
“Our results emphasize the importance of considering cultural and other family factors such as multiple language exposure that can affect development when interpreting clinical tests, even when they are conducted in the child’s preferred language,” said co-author Robin Hansen, chief of developmental-behavioral pediatrics at UC Davis, director of clinical programs with the MIND Institute.
Hansen adds that the number of children “slipping through the cracks” is disheartening. “We need to make sure that all children are getting routine developmental screening, early diagnosis and intervention so they can achieve their fullest potential,” she stated.