Mexican-American Children and Autism: Under Diagnosed or Does the Latino Paradox Play a Role?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - 9:50am

Autism affects one in every 110 children across the nation. However, Hispanic children are diagnosed far less than other children.

News Center 23's Na'Tassia Finley has more on how one local research study is hoping to really break ground and shed light on to why this is.

This is Logan, he's five, very smart and a real sweetheart.

But the active kindergartner is a bit unique from his peers in that he's mildly autistic.

"When he was two years old I noticed he wasn't even babbling, he wasn't making the milestones that doctors, that they have on the list at the doctor's office," says Logan’s mother, Norah Braun.

Logan's mom began recognizing more signs and decided it was time to see about an official diagnosis. his autism falls within the autism spectrum of pervasive development disorder not otherwise specified, also known as PDD-NOS.

Mom, Norah, says that Logan has some difficulty with his language and being in public.

There are three types that fall within the autism spectrum; the one just mentioned, PDD-NOS, asperger’s, and autism. Doctors classify autism as a nuero-development disorder.

While each of the spectrums vary quite a bit, there are three key signs that fall into all the spectrums…difficulty with speech or language, lack of social skills and repetitive behavior.

Logan was just a part of the first phase of an autism study that focused on Mexican-American children with the disorder. The UT Health Science Center in Harlingen is now moving on to phase two of the study.

"Our hope is to investigate the gene environment interaction of autism," says the Autism study Field Investigator, Dr. Tapia

Among all the questions and mystery that surrounds autism in general, even more surrounds Mexican- American children with autism. While the Center for Disease control reports one out of every 110 children are diagnosed, Mexican-American children fall very far below that diagnosed rate and are often diagnosed much later than non-Hispanic children. So why is that? That's exactly what the "Hispanic Autism Research Center” study is trying to find out.

"Is it something in the genes of Hispanic children that is making them present autism, autism spectrum disorder later in life or the second cause, or hypothesis, is there a lack of diagnosis among Hispanic children?" explains Dr. Tapia.

It's no secret that here in the Rio Grande Valley we lack health care resources. So is it a lack of diagnosticians or is it what's referred to as the Latino Paradox that's skewing the numbers?

The study is hoping to get 10 new participants, ten Mexican-American children between the ages of two to nine that have previously been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and then ten other children who are developing normally.

It's during this second phase of the study where Dr. Tapia and her team will really dig into the surroundings and background of a child that falls into the autism spectrum. They'll also take an in depth look at the genetics of a child with the disorder, taking blood, urine, saliva and hair samples to study the potential biological link.

While there are so many missing pieces of this puzzle, so many unanswered questions, Dr. Tapia says it's crucial that more research be done on Mexican-American children with autism because if they do determine that our numbers, that appear to be much lower than the national average, are really par with the national average, we need state and federal funding here in the valley in order to intervene and give these children what they need.

"We can integrate certain therapies so hopefully as teenagers and as adults, they can be independent," says Dr. Tapia.

If you’re interested in more information on the “Hispanic Autism Research Center” study, you can contact the center at 855-881-6121.

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