By Ken Liebeskind
When Yanira Rodriguez began to realize her son might be autistic, he had yet to celebrate his second birthday. Rodriguez, who is from New Britain, knows the struggle all parents of autistic children face through raising her son Ethan, who is now six.
“Between 15 and 18 months he did things other children don’t do, like rocking and banging his head on the floor,” she said.
Now more than ever, Latinos can relate to her experience as larger numbers of Latino children are being diagnosed with autism each year, according to recent data from the Center for Disease Control.
When Rodriguez brought her son to his doctor, her family was referred to Birth to Three, a state program that provides free evaluations for children. The program is run by the Connecticut Department of Development Services and is available in every town.
It is one of a variety of programs Rodriguez has used to care for Ethan.
“They came to the house until he was two and a half and did an educational diagnosis and speech therapy,” she said. “I saw some improvements but I wanted a medical diagnosis as well as an educational diagnosis.”
It was then that doctors at the Children’s Hospital in Hartford diagnosed Ethan with autism and began suggesting therapy treatments.
Her son was treated at the Talcott Center in Farmington before they were told they could no longer serve him for his behavioral issues. That “bump in the road” led Rodriguez to contact the Innovative Autism Network, where Ethan now goes three times a week for speech and occupational therapy.
Rodriguez said doctors, schools and state programs have been generally supportive. “Most people have been gracious and understanding,” she said.
Thanks to his early diagnosis and therapy sessions, Ethan attended the Gaffney School for children with special needs and now attends a mainstream school in New Britain for kindergarten.
However, while Rodriguez’s experience with raising a child with autism has been positive overall, it differs from what many other Latino parents with autistic children face as diagnoses continue to rise.
According to data from the Center for Disease Control, autism spectrum disorders are up 78 percent from 2007, and have increased 110 percent in Latino children. One in every 88 children is currently identified as autistic.
“The Latino population is one of the fastest growing in terms of incidence of autism,” Jennifer Bogin, Director of the Connecticut Division of Autism Services, said.
Higher numbers are attributed to “cultural differences and how the disability is viewed within the family,” she said, adding that some Latino families are less likely to bring their children to a specialist for a diagnosis. “Multi-generational families take a ‘wait and see’ attitude, because maybe the father didn’t begin speaking until he was five.”
Sara Reed, of the Connecticut Autism Spectrum Resource Center in Wallingford, said there has not been enough outreach in identifying autism in Latinos.
“There are problems with access to healthcare, socio-economic issues, language barriers, different social norms and how they deal with the medical world,” she said.
To access Birth to Three services, call 800-505-7000 to arrange an initial evaluation.