Hispanic children often have undiagnosed developmental delays and large numbers of both Hispanic and non-Hispanic children who first were thought to have developmental delay actually had autism, researchers affiliated with the UC Davis MIND Institute have found.
The study, one of the largest to date to compare development in Hispanic and non-Hispanic children, is published in the journal Autism. The results lead the study authors to recommend increased public health efforts to improve awareness, especially among Hispanics, about the indicators of developmental delay and autism.
Developmental delay is diagnosed in children who lag behind others in reaching important mental or physical milestones, while autism is characterized by deficits in social interactions and communication behaviors. The symptoms of both disorders can be improved with targeted interventions, with the greatest improvements seen when interventions begin early in life.
In conducting the study, the researchers used data from the Childhood Autism Risk from Genetics and the Environment (CHARGE) Study, a population-based study of factors that increase risk for autism or developmental delay. The current study included 1,061 children living in California who were between 24 and 60 months of age. They were divided into three groups: children with autism, children with developmental delay but not autism, and children with typical development. All diagnoses were confirmed or changed based on evaluations by MIND Institute clinicians.
The evaluations of Hispanic children were conducted by bicultural and bilingual clinicians in Spanish or English, depending on the primary language used at home. The results for children with at least one Hispanic parent of any race were compared to the results for children of non-Hispanic white parents.
When the outcomes for Hispanic children were compared to non-Hispanic children, the results revealed more similarities than differences in terms of autism profiles, including diagnostic scores, language function, whether or not children lost acquired skills and overall intellectual, social and physical functioning.
A striking outcome, however, was that 6.3 percent of Hispanic children enrolled in the study who were selected randomly out of the general population met criteria for developmental delay, compared with only 2.4 percent of non-Hispanic participants, which is the expected percentage. This raised concerns among the researchers that many Hispanic children with developmental delays may not be getting the services they need.