Health Disparities Investigation 3: Autism Diagnosis in Low-Income Families

Contributor:  Faiyza Osman

With yesterday being World Autism Awareness Day and April being Autism Awareness Month, it’s the perfect time to reflect on how autism truly fits into each of our lives. We all know someone with autism. They could be a sibling, a friend, a relative, or anything in between. It’s difficult to find someone who isn’t affected by autism or autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in one way or another, with over 3 million people in the U.S. affected by ASD and tens of millions worldwide (Autism Speaks).

Autism is a complex disorder of brain development which is characterized by difficulties in social interactions, verbal and non-verbal communication issues, and repetitive behavior (Autism Speaks).

We can’t label or diagnose just anyone simply because they exhibit certain behavior, so professionals look to the autism spectrum.

The spectrum presents a range of neurodevelopmental disorders, including autism, based on a deficit in social skills and interactions. Depending on their specific characteristics, one can be diagnosed with any one of these disorders.

Many of you are already familiar with the struggle of caring for a loved one with autism. Fighting for the educational benefits, finding a suitable job or program after high school if college isn’t an option, and making arrangements for the next caregiver in the event of your absence are just a few of the common stresses. All the possible benefits are made available to the family provided the child is properly diagnosed.

Sounds easy enough, right? A few trips to the doctor’s office, a few cognitive analyses, and a quick diagnosis, but it’s all about having access to these resources for a proper diagnosis.

Autism diagnosis and treatment are far less accessible to low-income families. Experts claim the prime age for proper diagnosis is two years, but most Latino and African-American children are diagnosed around 6 to 11 years. Delays in diagnosis are far more common in low-income areas (CT Mirror). While four years may seem trivial, it’s actually a lost opportunity for intervention therapy that could have helped improve the child’s infantile cognitive skills.

Let’s say a child on the autism spectrum remains undiagnosed. What’s the big deal, right? Can’t the school just tell they have something? Unfortunately, educational benefits cannot be given to a child because a few administrators informally recognize these relatively apparent cognitive impairments. Without proper diagnosis, autistic students lack the resources they need for academic success, such as special education classes, personal aids, or extra test-taking time. Such accommodations are essential to academic success for these children, but they’re almost impossible to obtain without proper diagnosis. If treatment and diagnosis are already relatively inaccessible to low-income families, these children are already prone to struggle in school.

Autistic is not synonymous with stupid but with a different type of learning. The best you can do as a loved one is educate others and create a compassionate, patient environment.  

References

"Experts: Autism Diagnosis and Treatment Less Accessible to Low-income Families." The CT Mirror.

"Experts: Autism Diagnosis, Treatment Less Accessible to Low-Income Families." Autism Speaks

"How Is Autism Treated?" Autism Speaks. 

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