Obstacles to autism treatment for immigrant families.


Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D

bSci21Media, LLC

The diagnosis of autism is becoming better recognized and more frequently diagnosed worldwide; however, in many parts of the world this diagnosis still carries significant stigma and availability of evidence-based care may be limited.

In the United States, autism is a well-recognized developmental disorder and access to evidence-based treatment is significantly better than in most other countries. As such, insurance and other benefits may be available to assist parents.

However, significant misunderstandings and lack of information still exist in the U.S. One reason may be due in part to changing diagnostic standards that impair our ability to track cases of autism, and thus, gain a better understanding of the disorder. For example, changes in the most recent Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5) criteria for autism excluded high functioning autism (Asperger’s) from qualifying as autism. We will likely see estimates of the disorder flucturate as a result.

Further complicating our ability to understand and adequately treat autism are funding issues that impede monitoring of change in autism diagnosis rates over time. This is perhaps best represented by the recent and radically different findings obtained by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the National Statistics Report. The most recent estimate of autism diagnosis rates by the CDC suggests that rates have remained steady at 1 in 68 children. This comes in direct opposition to the most recent National Statistics Report (2015) which suggests rates are increasing to 1 in every 45 children.

Though the disparity in estimates is concerning, it pales in comparison to the differences in estimates obtained worldwide. Rates of autism diagnosis worldwide vary from the low end at 1 child in 3,333 (Poland) to 1 child in 27 (Hong Kong). This further suggests systemic issues in diagnosis and treatment access around the world, and may further support differences in stigmatization that leave parents feeling unable to seek care in their countries of origin.

Worldwide, families seeking treatment for their children simply want the best treatment possible. Many families immigrate to the United States in order to receive better services for their children. These families then face the monumental challenges of caring for their child while acculturating to the United States. For example, families might encounter language barriers between themselves and their child’s treatment providers, as well as obtaining work and adequate insurance in a new country.

A case-in-point is the story of Anjali and Vikrant Kularni, who live with their 5 year old son, Arnav, in Maryland.  The family moved to the U.S. from India in 2011, and experienced initial difficulties in being separated from their extended family in India.  After moving to the U.S., Arnav was born and was eventually diagnosed with autism.   The family struggled for months to find effective therapy but eventually, with the help of Vikrant’s employer, they were able to move to another city to receive 40 hours of ABA therapy a week, after which dramatic improvements immediately

Then there is the story of Irum from Pakistan.  His first son was diagnosed with autism, and his second with Global Development Delay.  Due in part to a lack of resources in Pakistan, the family is currently in the process of immigrating to the U.S. to provide more access to ABA treatment for their children.

Such families may find that technology can help ease some of the before-mentioned challenges, and the ABA DrOmnibus App is one such solution. The App is designed to supplement ABA therapy with engaging learning activities that your child can use from the comfort of your own home.  And it can even help in learning English such that needs are more effectively communicated to a qualified ABA therapist.  The app was designed by the Polish tech firm DrOmnibus, the only ABA company to join Google’s LaunchPad Accelerator program.  The company is beginning to make waves in the U.S. ABA market, and you might have seen their booth recently at the ABAI Autism Conference in Miami, Florida.

To check out the app for free, please visit DrOmnibus.com.

Have you experienced difficulties in obtaining quality autism treatment during the immigration process?  Let us know your story in the comments below.

Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D is the President and Founder of bSci21Media, LLC, which owns the top behavior analytic media outlet in the world, bSci21.org.  bSci21Media aims to disseminate behavior analysis to the world and to support ABA companies around the globe through the Behavioral Science in the 21st Century blog and its subsidiaries, bSciEntrepreneurial, bSciWebDesign, bSciWriting, and the ABA Outside the Box CEU series.  Dr. Ward received his PhD in behavior analysis from the University of Nevada, Reno under Dr. Ramona Houmanfar.  He has served as a Guest Associate Editor of the Journal of Organizational Behavior Management, and as an Editorial Board member of Behavior and Social Issues.  Dr. Ward has also provided ABA services to children and adults with various developmental disabilities in day centers, in-home, residential, and school settings, and previously served as Faculty Director of Behavior Analysis Online at the University of North Texas.  Dr. Ward is passionate about disseminating behavior analysis to the world and growing the field through entrepreneurship. Todd can be reached at todd.ward@bsci21.org

*Paid content by DrOmnibus.

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