One-fourth of children less than eight years old with autism -- a developmental disorder that impairs the ability to communicate and interact -- are not being diagnosed, a study says. The study, published in the journal Autism Research, revealed that despite growing awareness about autism, it is still under-diagnosed, particularly in black and Hispanic people. As part of the study, the scientists, including those from Rutgers University in the US, analysed the education and medical records of 2,66,000 children who were eight years old in 2014.
They sought to determine how many of the children who showed symptoms of the disorder were not clinically diagnosed or receiving services. Out of nearly 4,500 children identified with autism, 25 per cent were not diagnosed, the study noted. Most of these children were either black or Hispanic males with deficits in mental abilities, social skills, and activities of daily living, and were not considered disabled.
"There may be various reasons for the disparity, from communication or cultural barriers between minority parents and physicians to anxiety about the complicated diagnostic process and fear of stigma," said Walter Zahorodny study co-author from Rutgers University.
"Also, many parents whose children are diagnosed later, often attribute their first concerns to a behavioural or medical issue rather than a developmental problem," Zahorodny said. According to the researchers, screening all toddlers, preschool, and school-age children for autism may help reduce the disparities in diagnosis.
Additionally, the scientists said, doctors can overcome communication barriers by using pictures, or by employing patient navigators to help families understand the diagnosis process, test results, and treatment recommendations.