According to the latest data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, African-American children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are twice as likely to be affected by intellectual disability (ID, formerly known as “mental retardation”) when compared to non-Hispanic white children with autism (44% to 22%).
“Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhuman” Dr. Martin L. King Jr. proclaimed at the 1966 Annual Convention of the Medical Committee for Human Rights. More than five decades later, disparities in health care persist for African-American children living in the United States.
Now in the thirteenth year of a research program funded by the National Institute of Health to ensure ethnic and minority representation in biobanking and treatment discovery efforts, the research team is on a mission to lower the average age of diagnosis of African-American children with autism in the St. Louis region (from a national average between five and six years of age), many prior to age two years.
At Washington University, families that have concerns about a young child’s development can receive thorough evaluations for autism through the Autism Clinical Center (ACC), which is supported by a long-standing grant from the State of Missouri to help ensure timely diagnosis of autism and to participate in discovery efforts for higher-impact therapies.
Washington University is currently enrolling African-American and bi-racial African American children ages 18-36 months with any suspicion of autism or with possible delays in language and social development. The research team is also recruiting a healthy volunteer control group, ages 18-36 months with no history of developmental delays to achieve the greatest possible understanding of factors that compromise the outcomes of young African-American children with autism, and can be addressed in new and better therapies.
“Before starting the program, I really wasn’t able to communicate with my son,” said a father about his experience with participating in both aspects of the Early Strides program. “Now he can say more words, and he can tell me what he wants, instead of just crying and screaming to communicate.”