Hispanic children are less likely to be identified with Autism Spectrum Disorders than other children, according to recent research by the Centers for Disease Control report.
However, this situation is changing with the 2018 study conducted by CDC’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) also found that the prevalence of children and adults diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders among Hispanics is rising at a faster rate than for other groups
At the same time, ASD specialists, who frequently state that earlier diagnosis and treatment lead to better outcomes, are concerned that Hispanic children typically are identified about two years later than their white counterparts.
The reasons for this disparity include language and cultural barriers between doctors and patients, limited access to primary care and development specialists and even that many Hispanic parents are less knowledgeable about ASD, according to a 2013 survey of pediatricians by Pediatrics magazine.
SUGGESTION: Autism Diagnosis: Latinos Face Obstacles
In Connecticut, Milestone Behavioral Services, a not-for-profit provider of services to special needs patients, determined that for ASD children who are recent immigrants or are English-as a-Second Language learners it is imperative to conduct therapy in the client’s at-home language as well as to offer bilingual education and training to parents.
To meet this need, Milestones Family Services launched its Early Intervention Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) Clinic along with bilingual and multi-cultural consultation at its Boston Post Road campus in Orange. MBS also has a clinic and adult care program in Milford.
“We believe this is the only bilingual program of its kind in the state,” said Dr. Solandy Forte, who is Milestone’s director of consultation and community outreach and spearheads the new program.
By mid-October the new clinic had eight on-site patients and five families who receive at-home services. More than 70 percent of the families served are Hispanic but other languages such as German and Italian are represented.
Dr. Forte, who has a doctorate in applied behavior analysis from Endicott College and a 15-year relationship with Connecticut Department of Family Services, speaks Spanish and English as do many of the registered behavior technicians who work with a board-certified behavior analyst to implement ABA therapy.
Dr. Forte also conducts parental training in Spanish and English as part of the new intervention program and Milestones multicultural outreach to the community.
“This focus on parent education delivered in two different languages is what sets us apart,” Dr. Forte said.
Some of the ASD parents in the training group do not have children in the new program but utilize other MBS services and want to learn what their children are doing and more about the intervention strategies being employed, Dr. Forte said.
Parents typically contact MBS about the early intervention and ABA programs after they receive a diagnosis of autism for their child. In addition, Dr. Forte said referrals come from educators, the state’s Birth to Three system, psychologists, pediatricians, and mental health providers.
“We evaluate first and then develop a treatment,” Dr. Forte said. All ABA programming is delivered on a one-to-one basis. she said and is individualized.
The therapy scheduled is based on specific needs, which Dr. Forte said can span multiple domains including academic/cognitive, social, behavioral, communication, and adaptive behavior. “We aim to recommend the hours the client or patient requires based on their individual needs,” she said. Some patients may need a hospital program and others may come to the clinic as much as 30 hours per week or four to six hours may work for children receiving social counseling.
The cost of treatment for most families is supported by the child’s public school district and state and private payers. In addition, the state’s major insurance companies and Medicaid (Husky Plan) have credentialed ABA therapy as medically necessary, Dr. Forte said.
MBS is collecting data to support its bilingual strategy. However, some parents are already reporting, Dr. Forte said, that after a few weeks of the new program they are seeing drastic changes in their children and “development across every aspect of life.”
MBS is in its third decade of providing education and training to individual of all ages with autism and other intellectual and developmental disabilities. The school’s clients, as well as patients with medically required care primarily, are drawn from New Haven and Fairfield counties. MBS was founded and is still directed by Suzanne and Letso, parents of an autistic child.