Autism Series: Autism in Low-Income Communities

For many LA County families, paying the rent and keeping food on the table is enough to incur significant stress and strain. Now imagine what can happen when a struggling family has a child with autism. Without early intervention and outside support, autism can tear a family apart and leave the autistic child with debilitating behavioral problems, ruining chances of adult independence.

Many low-income families with autistic children do not know what autism is or how to access services to help their autistic children. Sometimes parents are ashamed of their children’s behavior and try to handle it on their own. When it comes to accessing services there are documented disparities for African American, Latino and Asian Pacific Islander children, so autistic children in these communities will likely face the most difficult scenarios.

Luckily, there is a growing grassroots effort to help low-income minority families with children with autism by connecting them to services and educating them about their rights. First 5 LA recently attended a full day conference held by the Special Needs Network (SNN), a community-based organization founded to respond to the needs of low-income families impacted by autism and other developmental disabilities. This second annual event, Tools for Transformation: Building Confidence and Capacity, was held to help inform parents of the free and no-cost resources available to them, and how to access those resources.

At the event, First 5 LA interviewed Areva Martin, co-founder and president of SNN about autism in underserved communities in Los Angeles and what SNN does to assist. Click below to hear her comments.

Also speaking at the conference was BJ Freeman, professor emerita of Medical Psychology at UCLA School of Medicine, and founder and past director of the UCLA Autism Evaluation Clinic. Freeman spoke about applied behavioral analysis and the importance of early screening. Click below to hear her comments about the increase in diagnosis of children with autism and her call to school districts to better support the needs of autistic children.

For many in early education, the diagnosis of autism is considered the responsibility of the pediatrician. However, in many low-income communities, one-on-one visits with pediatricians are very short. Often they are handled by a nurse practitioner, which can lead to a missed opportunity for diagnosis. If a parent or provider notices behavioral anomalies in a child, it is recommended that the family calls the local regional center for a free developmental screening diagnosis.

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