Spanish-speaking liaison hired to address disparities in autism care
Higher rates of autism, particularly in historically underserved groups, indicate a growing need to bridge gaps in services, and USARAN is making a difference.
By Michelle Ryan
Autism services aren’t as readily available to some populations nationwide, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association, but the USA Regional Autism Network is taking steps to address barriers to care in Alabama.
“We are particularly aware of the fact that the Hispanic population in the state is increasing, yet we haven’t been reaching this population with autism information and services,” said Amy Mitchell, director of USARAN. “There are lots of reasons for this, but one of the foremost is the language barrier.”
According to the U. S. Census Bureau, the Hispanic population in Alabama has increased nearly 145% since 2000.
To address this growing need, USARAN added a Hispanic community liaison, Veronica Valero Cervantes, to the team in February to help connect to Spanish-speaking families to the network of autism services.
“The response of the community so far has been building as people know that we can help and serve their needs in Spanish,” Valero Cervantes said. “This role is so very important because we can approach the Hispanic community in a way that they will be comfortable asking for help without worrying about not being able to be understood or not knowing how to ask for resources for their family members.”
USARAN, part of a statewide program that is funded through the Alabama Department of Mental Health, is tasked with providing education and connecting autistic people, their families and service providers to the resources they need, including therapy, in-school assistance and adult support.
The latest numbers from the Centers for Disease Control show increases in the rate of autism overall, as well as among groups in historically underserved communities, including Hispanic populations.
“The rate of autism in children has been steadily rising since the CDC started tracking it in 2000. The most recent data released by the CDC indicates that 1 in 36 children were diagnosed with autism by the age of 8 in 2020, up from 1 in 44 in 2018,” Mitchell said. “What’s interesting about the data is that it reflects an increase in diagnosing Asian, Black and Hispanic children, which could indicate that there is improved screening, awareness and access to service among historically underserved groups.”
Now that an emphasis has been placed on offering materials and support to Spanish-speaking populations, many families are contacting Alabama’s regional autism networks from out of state and even internationally.