Young black and Latino children with autism stop talking, crawling, making eye contact and even walking more often than white children with the disorder, according to a new study presented this week at the Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting in Vancouver.
The loss of language, motor or social skills occurs in black children aged 3-6 twice as often as in whites, and 1.5 times more often among Latino children, the study found. Overall, 27 percent of autistic pre-schoolers experienced some sort of regression, it said.
"Lost skills are very difficult to recuperate," said lead researcher Adiaha Spinks-Franklin, assistant professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine and associate director of the Developmental-Behavioral Pediatric Fellowship at Texas Children’s Hospital.
"If a child had a skill and lost it they tend to have more significant developmental disability than a child that did not lose a skill," said Spinks-Franklin. "It’s more concerning."
The study's second phase, which has already begun, aims to find out why this racial/ethnic difference exists. Researchers will analyze factors such as age of diagnosis, developmental markers and other characteristics, Spinks-Franklin said.
Other research has shown that African-American and Latino children tend to be diagnosed at a later age than white children, and have more difficulty accessing help.
Spinks-Franklin said there is currently no data connecting those findings with her research on rates of developmental regression. But she will examine those factors in the second part of the study, she said.
Early diagnosis is important, added Spinks-Franklin, for treatment and best outcomes.
"It’s really important that primary care physician be aware of the early signs of autism and be attuned to parent concerns," she said. "And when parents have concerns it’s important they alert their primary care provider because the earlier a child is evaluated and the earlier the child can receive services the better off the child will be."
The study included data about 1,353 preschoolers with autism who are part of the Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network, which includes 17 sites in the US and Canada.
The researchers aim to publish the two-part study toward the end of summer.