By: Imani Brooks

On September 10, 2019, I attended Break the Cycle of Autism Disparities: Promoting Equity for Children with Autism at the Emory Nursing School. This is event, which was hosted by the Atlanta Autism Consortium, focused on the work of local researchers who are interested in disparities in autism care and treatment. These, and other, researchers have begun collaborating and thinking of ways to learn about and address these disparities by forming the group Break the Cycle of Autism Disparities.

I knew very little about autism before the event, especially since I grew up in a family that saw certain vaccines as “dangerous” because of leading to autism. However, this event allowed me to hear from brilliant female researchers about the evidence-based causes and hypothesis behind the prevalence of autism in certain communities over others. 

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is the second most common developmental disability, more common than childhood cancer. About 3.5 million Americans have ASD, and more than 15 million Americans are directly impacted by the disorder. ASD affects 1 in 68 children in Georgia, which is higher than the national average. Such a prevalent disorder supersedes race, ethnicity, social status, income, lifestyle and education.

Each presenter had the stage for about 8 minutes to review a study that worked towards promoting equity in autism and sustainable solutions to disparities. The first presentation, by Celine Saulnier, Cheryl Klaiman, and Samuel Fernandez-Carriba, titled “Racial, Ethnic and Socio-Economic Disparities in ASD” determined that if ASD is diagnosed early, then the disparities between Caucasian and African American children might decrease. In fact, ASD can be diagnosed as early as 2 years old. But, in Georgia, about half of children diagnosed with ASD do not receive that diagnosis until they are around 4 years, 5 months old.

Image of an infinity symbol in colors going from red to orange to yellow to green to blue to purple.
The rainbow infinity symbol has come to represent the diversity of the autism community as well as neurodiversity.

After collecting data from single mothers/grandmothers, Jennifer S. Singh found a connection between constraints of Medicaid and ASD. In her presentation, titled “Narratives of Navigating Autism Amongst Low Income African Americans” she recommended an expansion of autism services and that medical and educational programs work together and increase the number of behavioral therapists who accept Medicaid.[1]

In Jennifer Sarrett‘s presentation, “Disparities in Incarcerated Populations”, we learned that anywhere from 5-80% of incarcerated populations have an intellectual or developmental disorder, and people with these disabilities are often have longer and harder sentences. 

Susan Brasher‘s presentation, “Disparities in Rural and Medical Under Serviced Communities” also identified early diagnosis and treatment as important aspects of improving health outcomes in children with ASD.

Finally, Karen Guerra‘s presentation, “A Productive Path for Spanish-Speaking Families” found immense importance in support groups for Spanish-speaking families with autistic children. According to the CDC, the proportion of black and white children identified as autistic is the same, yet Hispanic children are less likely to be identified. 

Image of six female presenting people sitting in a row in front of an audience. The third woman to the right is speaking into a microphone.
The presenters, from left to right, Susan Brasher, Cheryl Klaiman, Jennifer Singh, Celine Saulnier, Jennifer Sarrett, and Karen Guerra.

The CDC claims that a lot of benefits come from research into autism, like the projects at Break the Cycle of Autism Disparities. Gathering more information about autism “promotes early identification of ASD; plans [and updates] ASD services and training; guides future ASD research; and informs policies for improved outcomes in health care and education for individuals with ASD.” Within this state, the research can help “lower the age of first evaluation and subsequent diagnosis, increase awareness of ASD among Hispanic families, and identify and address barriers in order to decrease the age at which all children are evaluated and diagnosed.”

To learn more about this work, feel free to contact any of the presenters. You can find their contact information by following the hyperlink attached to their name. You can also keep up with the Break the Cycle of Autism Disparities and the Atlanta Autism Consortium websites.

References

[1] Hong, A. and Singh, J. (2019) Contextualizing the Social and Structural Constraints of Accessing Autism Services among Single Black Female Caregivers in Atlanta, GA. International Journal of Child Health and Human Development, 12(4).

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