Many Latino parents in the U.S. know little about autism and some have never heard of the disorder before, finds a study published 1 September in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics. Latinos also tend to normalize autism symptoms or view them as a sign of family problems, such as an inattentive parent.
The findings may help explain why Latino children with autism are diagnosed an average of one year laterthan their white, non-Latino counterparts, as we reported last year.
The researchers used focus groups and one-on-one interviews to probe autism awareness among 30 Latino parents of typically developing children living in the Portland, Oregon, area. Of the participants, 23 are women, most of whom were born in Mexico and did not finish high school.
The study reflects a growing appreciation of how cultural factors may affect the diagnosis and treatment of autism. Symptoms of the disorder vary across cultures, pointing to the need for culturally specific screening and diagnostic tools. The new work is unusual because it uses qualitative, anthropological research methods to understand how a particular community perceives autism.
It would be easy to overlook its importance because autism research is usually quantitative. However, though small, the study reminds us how an autism diagnosis can unfold in the real world and affect families.
In the study, parents viewed and then discussed a short film about a 3-year-old Latino boy whose mother becomes concerned about his behavior. The boy is later diagnosed with autism. The film and discussion were in Spanish with 16 of the study participants and in English with the remaining 14.
The research team, which includes several bilingual and bicultural members, studied transcripts from the focus groups and interviews to identify common themes in parental perceptions of autism. They then validated these themes with two Latina mothers: one who has a child with autism and one who has a typically developing child.