In Santa Cruz County, the regional center serves 35 Latino children with autism, a number that [Gina] Fiallos [of San Andreas RC] said is not inclusive, because some children with autism diagnoses don't meet the state criteria for services at the regional center. The center serves 143 Santa Cruz County children in all.
Studies suggest the illness may be under-diagnosed or misdiagnosed in Latino families. In California, the percent of all autistic people that are Latinos, 28 percent, is below the total percentage of Latinos in the state, 36 percent. Yet, the population of Latino children is growing in Santa Cruz County, meaning the autism diagnosis might rise, as will the need for services in Spanish and providers who speak Spanish.
Parent-run support groups are common in English-speaking communities. Santa Cruz has the Special Parents Information Network and the Special Needs Parent Training Alliance that offer community, resources and support to families dealing with disabilities in general.
And while such groups specifically for autism exist for Spanish-speaking families elsewhere in California, no such group seems to exist in Santa Cruz County, leaving families like the Morans feeling they must deal by themselves with an illness that has no cure, no single scientifically vetted cause and a lifetime of treatment.
There is some evidence that California children of Mexican-born parents have a lower prevalence of autism. Yet, what isn't clear in those studies is whether Spanish-speaking or immigrant parents have the same access to and education of possible resources available. Also, there is evidence that minority children are misdiagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder before the correct diagnosis of autism is made.
This wastes what many professionals see as precious time to intervene and start treatment.
"There isn't a clear answer. So little is known about autism in Latinos," said Virginia Chaidez, a post-doctoral researcher at the UC Davis MIND institute. Chaidez, under the guidance of autism expert Irva Hertz-Piccioto, has begun a project looking at diagnosis rates of Latino children, and what environmental and genetic factors may contribute, including proximity to agricultural chemicals.
Meanwhile, some Latino families deal with the stigma associated with having a child with developmental needs.