Mountainside, N.J. – In a study with national implications, researchers at Children's Specialized Hospital found that in underserved communities using teachers to screen for autism in preschools and day care centers is more effective than the current system that relies solely on parents and pediatricians to identify the disorder. The research, which could fundamentally change the way disadvantaged children are screened for autism, will be presented this week at the International Meeting for Autism Research, or IMFAR, in Toronto. Studies have long suggested that racial and economic disparities exist in the early diagnosis and treatment of autism and as a result many poor children with the disorder miss out on valuable early intervention.
Researchers at Children's Specialized Hospital, looking for innovative ways to identify these hard-to-reach children, created community-wide screening programs that used teachers as well as parents to help identify at-risk children. The programs also used culturally sensitive materials distributed in places such as health fairs and screening programs in health clinics. Employing these methods, the study found autism rates of nearly three percent in these underserved communities, significantly higher than the overall New Jersey rate of approximately two per cent.
The researchers found that in some communities where English is not a first language, for instance, a child who does not make eye contact might be considered deferential and respectful by a parent, even though this behavior potentially may be a sign of autism, Dr. Harris said. The researchers also found that challenging behavior in children may be recognized but not necessarily linked to autism. The second study compared how accurate parents and preschool teachers were at identifying children at risk for autism. Completed MCHAT screens were obtained by both parents and teachers for 190 children. An additional 405 children were screened by both parents and teachers using the Social Communication Questionnaire, or SCQ. “When parents answered the questions you had a much higher failure rate than you would expect,” Dr. Janvier said, adding some parents sought to provide what they perceived to be the “correct” answer.
Children’s Specialized Hospital Foundation supports the programs and services of the hospital. The Foundation is ranked among the top six pediatric hospital foundations in the country. To help, or find more information, visit www.childrens-specialized.org.
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