Despite increased awareness in recent years, one quarter of young children on the autism spectrum remain undiagnosed – many of them in minority communities – according to a January 2020 study published in the journal Autism Research.

Most researchers and professionals agree that early diagnosis is crucial for the overall development and quality of life for young children on the autism spectrum. Even with increased efforts in schools and clinics, up to 25% of children under age 8 on the autism spectrum had not been properly diagnosed with autism, leaving many without the services they need in critical developmental years. The study analyzed education and health records of more than 250,000 children. Of approximately 4500 children identified on the autism spectrum, 25% had not received the correct diagnosis. Most of the undiagnosed children were black or Hispanic males. The researchers attributed some of the disparity in diagnosis in minority communities to possible language or cultural barriers. Study co-author Walter Zahorodny, director of the New Jersey Autism Study, also warned that many parents often attribute their first concerns about their children to medical or behavioral issues rather than developmental delays caused by autism.

The study recommends screening all toddlers, preschool and school-age children and improving communication between clinicians and parents, especially in minority communities.

The study was funded by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention through the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network which tracks the prevalence of autism spectrum disorder in 11 states, including Wisconsin.

This study highlights the importance of the education and awareness raising work done by Friends of Autism. We won’t rest until every child in Wisconsin is properly screened, diagnosed, and receives the appropriate treatment and family support.

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