As we head into the month of May, many of us look forward to celebrating Cinco De Mayo. Other than literally meaning May 5th, Mexican-Americans also celebrate this day. On 1862, The Mexican Army won The Battle of Puebla against the French Empire. This makes it a good time to take a look at how autism affects Hispanic families when they fall onto the spectrum.
While the standard is normally 1 in 68 kids with autism, in Hispanic children or families, the numbers are slightly higher with about 1 in 115 children being diagnosed somewhere on the spectrum. This can lead to autistic adults who are undiagnosed until adulthood. These adults can also often get married and have children, where both the adults and their kids can go undiagnosed. This misdiagnosis can also be pointed to a lack of cultural knowledge of autism itself. According to this study, many parents had never even heard the word "autism."
The study concluded that in many cases behavioural or sensory difficulties are often swept under the rug, ignored, or made light of. And the challenges associated with autism are considered the result of environment and not treated as a psychological issue. Another challenge found by this study was a barrier of language. Of those surveyed, only 20 % had access to a doctor that gave a verbal screening in Spanish.
This article from The U.S. Library of Medicine used focus groups to determine why autism in Hispanic families are not detected sooner. Other than the previously discovered reasons, it was also found that there is a cultural shame when it comes to neurological disorders. The often private aspect of these families, causes parents to not seek outside help and pressure from older generations (who also did not have knowledge of autism) to keep "family problems" away from doctors.
It would be a shame to have a new generation of autistic children and their families fall through the cracks and go without the resources and encouragement they need to navigate the spectrum. Education and awareness is the only way to effect any kind of change. This falls on the shoulders of doctors, caregivers, and educators to make sure everyone stays informed and has the best options available for them and their families.