an overview by B.E.S.T. Service Dogs by Jan Murry Lopez, MS, Canine Life Science and Founder.
Bringing together my passion for service dogs and assisting the autism community
While researching Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) with regards to the service dog
community, I discovered an organization in Detroit, Michigan called The Color of Autism
Foundation. This non-profit organization provides information and services to families
affected by autism in the Detroit African American community. The founder, Camille
Parker knew something wasn’t right when her son was born. At the age of 1 she pushed for a diagnosis and was told he had autism. She ended up quitting her job to care for him full time. She found that to get the services she needed for her son she had to fight. Her mission is to help other families navigate for services for their children so that they would not have to struggle as she has. I contacted her for her input.
As I researched more about African American children affected by autism, I found research about this community’s specific challenges. I talked with Camille about incorporating service dogs in her efforts, she conceded that the population she currently serves does not have the financial capability to care for a service dog, even if they should apply for one. I continued my research into the subject of autism and the African American (AA) community.
Autism doesn’t distinguish between races. African American children are just as apt to be affected by autism at the same rate as whites. In fact, there is evidence that the prevalence of autism in blacks is 25% higher than whites. 1 Due to cultural differences and lack of resources, these children are diagnosed later in life and often misdiagnosed. The average diagnosis is 1.6 years later than their white counterparts. 2 This results in a significant health care disparity between children of color and their white counterparts. Early intervention in autism is of significant value in assisting these children. With this lapse in early diagnosis, these early interventions therapies start later in the child’s development.
1 Hooker, B.S. 2014 Transitional Neurodegeneration 3, 16
2 Mandell, D.S. et all, 2002 Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Dec 41(12:1447-
Culture3 -African American cultural influences and its effect on latediagnosis:
AA families tend to seek help from family and church members before going for medical help
Family interpretation of the child’s symptoms (misdiagnosis)
Personal and professional health care provider bias may substantially affect the education and treatment of autism (misdiagnosis and late diagnosis)
Distrust of clinical providers. Most of the health screening materials show only Caucasian children affected by ASD. This gives the false assumption that ASD does not affect AA children. AA parents may feel that these materials do not relate to their issues.
Protecting their children from the general community
In addition, multicultural learners have 3 major obstacles to overcome in their learning:
They may be culturally different
They may be linguistically different
May have exceptionalities that become stacked with challenging behaviors
More research is needed to determine just how much cultural influences affect diagnosis and treatment.
Special education not available until there is a diagnosis. If there is no diagnosis, the
child does not receive the services they need, especially the early intervention therapy that is critical to development.
This is where The Color of Autism Foundation steps in. Their stated goal is “to help
families identify the warning signs of autism early on. We can start to overturn these
disparities by helping African-Americans with autism reach their full potential.
Empowering families with information on autism that they can use to advocate services for their child.
The Service Dog Connection – In my years of autism service dog support, I can say that I
have never seen a child of color with a service dog. Not to say that there aren’t any. But due to expense, lack of knowledge of what service dogs can provide, lack of understanding of what it would take (funding/ daily tasks) to care for a service dog is what prevents families from requesting a service dog. Most of these children never experience the unconditional love and companionship of a service dog.
Major areas service dogs help children on the spectrum are:
The use of a service/therapy dog may prime children with autism to participate more
fully in the demands of therapy such as:
Communication – encourages verbal and non-verbal communication and increases
Calming – encourages a sense of security, decreases meltdowns, decreases anxiety and stress, increases willingness to try new things
Quality of life – increases motor skills and physical activities, improves quality of sleep, provides a positive community buffer for less stressful family outings, and creates a social bridge to others
Independence – increases feelings of empowerment, increases sense of responsibility,
Safety – tethering to the child, anchoring, herding, alerting, searching
In conclusion, we have quite a way to go to create equity in the areas of research, diagnosis and treatment for African American children. By bringing the challenges that African American families face, we hope to share awareness to the community as well as sharing the benefits of autism service dogs. We support efforts to increase assistance in diagnosis, therapies and needed services to this community. Including therapy and service dogs.
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