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Gov. Nixon Declares April Autism Awareness Month

April is Autism Awareness Month in Missouri and the C-D-C is pushing for earlier testing for children. (Lorie Gelwick Tuter)
April is Autism Awareness Month in Missouri and the C-D-C is pushing for earlier testing for children. (Lorie Gelwick Tuter)
April 7, 2016

JEFFERSON CITY, MO - Governor Jay Nixon has declared April Autism Awareness Month, and his proposed budget for the next fiscal year includes $5 million to expand the Thompson Center for Autism, in Columbia, and $1 million to help launch an autism clinic at Truman State University, plus $500,000 to expand services at the Mercy Kids Autism Center in St. Louis and St. Charles counties.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has just released a new study that said while autism rates are holding steady, testing needs to be done at an earlier age.

Dr. Stuart Shapira, chief medical officer for CDC's National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, said they found more children need to be tested at an earlier age.

"When concerns are raised, it's important that parents and providers move forward to get that first evaluation," he stressed. "Parents don't have to wait if there's concern, they can go through their state's early intervention program and local school system, and get that evaluation for free."

If the governor's budget is approved, the expansion at the Thompson Center for Autism would allow an additional 2,000 visits per year, and an additional 100 providers could be trained over five years to ease the shortage of autism services in Missouri.

Dr. Daisy Christensen, epidemiologist and lead author of the study, said overall there are fewer autism spectrum disorder (ASD) cases among African-American and Hispanic children. However, she said that might be because they aren't being tested.

"Lower autism prevalence in these groups of non-white children may be due to a lack of identification," she said, "And if so, better identification efforts in these groups might result in increasing autism prevalence in those groups in future years."

Dr. Shapira said minority children may not have the same access to health care to be evaluated. He said there could be language barriers and other problems as well.

"There also may be a lack of trust in the medical profession among individuals in these racial and ethnic groups, and fear that bringing attention to a child's symptoms could lead to greater stigma," he added.

The report found only 43 percent of the nation's children identified with ASD had been evaluated by age three.

The full report can be read here.

Veronica Carter, Public News Service - MO