Autism Spectrum Disorder
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a severe disorder that makes aging difficult for children and parents. Autism affects 1/54 children in the United States, and it is characterized by challenges with communication, social interactions, and repetitive behaviors. Autism is a spectrum, so the disorder affects each person differently. Diagnosing autism early is crucial so the people around the affected person can know how to act and interact with the child to make sure they feel acknowledged. A diagnosis allows doctors to prescribe medication to diminish the effects of the disorder. An early diagnosis can also prevent severe intellectual disabilities from occurring. Many people of color do not have access to honest and unbiased physicians like White children, causing significant delays in the diagnosing of children of color.
Diagnosing autism can take up to four months, and the limited number of physicians that are qualified to make a diagnosis may delay the process even more. Wealthy people can bypass the wait time and pay extra money for faster and viable doctors who can make the diagnosis. On the other hand, research has shown that there is an average of a 3-year gap between “the first parental concern over the developmental delay and an ASD diagnosis for African American children'' (Meryl Bailey). This unequal access to healthcare may originate from systemic racism, which caused a significant amount of non-white families to live in rural areas. A study took place that shows how detrimental the effects of a late diagnosis can be, not only in a social aspect. The study determined how the later diagnosis and treatment of autism starts and how it affects intellectual disabilities. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention discovered that 47 percent of Black children with autism had an intellectual disability compared to 27 percent of White children. Underprivileged children and families need more access to physicians who can diagnose autism.
Misdiagnosing children of color can be a result of bias in the workplace. Bias is the brain’s tendency to put new people into certain assumed categories because of their appearance and stereotypes. Hispanic children are 65 percent less likely and Black children are 19 percent less likely than White children to be diagnosed with autism (spectrumnews.org). For instance, Black children are believed to be badly behaved and disrespectful. This stereotype influences doctors and makes them hesitant from diagnosing autism in children of color and causes doctors to reject cases from the second the child steps through the door. Families and doctors can mistake ASD for simply bad behavior, especially in Black boys.
Psychiatrists, psychologists, developmental pediatricians, and neurologists of color are critical to building trust with families who have autistic children. Black and Hispanic doctors are uncommon but are vital when building trust with children and families of color who need medical attention. The first issue that occurs when there are no doctors of different ethnicities are language barriers. Dialogue between doctors and minority families during the diagnosis process is critical because parents must comprehend the issue to understand the significance of treatment to enhance their quality of life by supporting their child. Acknowledging their child’s needs and feelings will need to be approached a different way is difficult, so the support should be provided by doctors. The language barrier is not the only issue in having a smaller number of Black and Hispanic doctors. Only 2% of autism providers are Black, and it is important to question how this affects the relationship between doctors and their patients. No parent wants their child to feel unwelcomed or uncomfortable. Trust must be built into the system of healthcare so people with ASD can access the help and support they need.
Overall, the workforce capacity, bias, and lack of access and trust are the most prevalent issues with ASD diagnosis. Well-resourced families are able to reserve care and allow their children to receive the help they need. On the other hand, low-resourced families struggle to find a spot for their child to have access to a physician. In the future, more people should have the knowledge to diagnose autism so the diagnosis and treatment aren't as delayed as they are now. There should also be encouragement and involvement in developing larger numbers of Black and Hispanic psychiatrists and physicians in order to build trust in the healthcare system. Bias in healthcare must be abolished. Black and Hispanic humans are disproportionately affected by misdiagnosis, hurting families and children who are in desperate need of unbiased medical attention.
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