Autism: The Spectrum in the Latinx Community
Written By: Sabrina Cabrera Rivera
When I was 13, I welcomed my baby sister into this world. When I was 16, she was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, a development disorder that is related to autism.
Now what is Asperger’s and why are we talking about it?
Asperger’s, as I have mentioned, is a development disorder that is closely related to autism and characterized by higher than average intellectual ability coupled with impaired social skills and restrictive, repetitive patterns of interest and activities. We are talking about it because this week is the beginning of what Autism Speaks calls World Autism Month and Nation Autism awareness lands on April 2nd.
We are also bringing it up because Latinx children are often diagnosed with Autism or ASD 2.5 years later than white non-Latinx children, even though many Hispanics do meet the symptoms criteria to be diagnosed. Why is that?
Well, it is often said that a diagnosis could be lost in translation due to language barriers, cultural differences, or just a general lack of awareness within the community.
Back as a teenager, I didn’t really know much about the ASD spectrum. I wasn’t really brought aware of it during my high school life and I most definitely didn’t hear about it within our community. The only reason we noticed that my sister had it was because my mom related that there was a major difference in how my sister acted versus how my brother and I were as babies.
She didn’t seem to trust people, even people she knew. If it was anyone who didn’t live with us in our home, she would simply stare silently and watched how we interacted with the person until she felt comfortable.
She also was very smart for her age. She would repeat words and sentences verbatim and seemed to translate between English and Spanish with little difficulty. Even though my brother and I struggled until much later to speak fluently in both languages.
There were also moments when she would have random outbursts of energy or tantrums. As well as a sensitivity to sudden noise or finding food tasted weird due to the texture.
All these collective moments where my mom had silently watched, realizing that she had something that she didn’t see in her previous children. At the time, I thought that maybe we had been being dramatic and seeing things that weren’t there. I truly that she acted just like most kids her age. Many people in our family told her this exact same thing but mi bella madre ended up taking her to the doctor, voicing her concerns.
This doctor ended up telling us that my sister had shown signs of having Asperger’s but she was still too young to test. Told us to come back as soon as she turned three and that she would get tested then. My mother did just that.
It wasn’t until then that I realized how ignorant I was by ignoring all these signs and how ingrained it was within our culture to ignore such matters due to a fear of embarrassment or rejection. How simply doubting these signs from a trained professional, could cause my little sister and loved ones to feel more outcasted or isolated because they experience the world a little differently.
Please continue to share your stories or personal experiences. We would be glad to listen and help spread awareness as well as celebrate those who have autism.