It has been said that sickness and misfortune do not discriminate between the well to do and their counterparts. This saying also applies to mental health challenges and neurological disorders. 16% of African Americans have reported suffering a mental illness in the last year. Reports for Caucasian Americans were just 2% less. Numbers across the globe may vary due to population density, however the reality of mental illness affecting all of humanity remains unshaken. What does not remain the same however are the advantages among ethnic groups to gain access to better healthcare and education about their conditions. It should then come with no surprise the evidence put forth to suggest that children in minority groups living with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are diagnosed much older than their white counterparts. In addition, the presentation of symptoms may vary in intensity due to cultural beliefs and socioeconomic privileges. For example, the inability of an infant to share joint attention, a telling ASD symptom, may be overlooked by Asian and some Latin American parents as their developmental milestone expectations carry later timelines as would cultures within a first world country.
Various studies have proposed that due to superior education among privileged ethnicities, language skills of ASD children belonging to that cohort are more favourable than African American, Asian, Hispanic and other minorities. As such, Asperger's syndrome and high functioning autism which are shown to have better life outcomes, become increasingly popular the higher up one looks in the hierarchy of classes. For families of children with severe ASD within privileged classes, effective long-term intervention which is often premium in quality and intensive in duration can be easily accessed as the family can afford the cost of these services. The result of this means symptoms over time decrease in intensity, thus putting a larger gap between the severity of symptoms of ASD found between minority and minority groups.
Awareness of various treatment options are also at a disparity between minority and non-minority groups. Whereas the knowledge of Applied Behavior Analysis treatment is prevalent in North America, Canada, Australia and the UK. The Caribbean, Asia, Africa and Latin America still have not seen an infiltration of this service in the marketplace, thus limiting options for minority groups and making access difficult if not impossible. While minority families suffer from limited access to state of the art healthcare for their autistic child, professionals serving these families often suffer from a lack of adequate resources to assist in their work, either because the apparatus is inaccessible in the region or if it is, there is a high cost associated with acquiring the resources.
To close, enough has been said to underscore the importance and need to lessen the gap between outcomes of minority and non-minority families with ASD. From the presentation of more intense symptoms to the unequal access to healthcare, coupled with cultural, religious and financial barriers, more needs to be done for at risk families if their ASD diagnosed children are going to see better life outcomes. The first step is to raise awareness with the hopes that advocacy will make its way to better policy making and splitting of resources sooner rather than later.
Until next time and thanks for reading, we would love to hear your input to this discussion!