Working to get children of color tested early for autism: Stigma, access barriers to needed services

(Left to right) Sheletta Brundidge with sons, Brandon Brundidge, 6, Andrew Brundidge, 12, Daniel Brundidge, 4, daughter, Cameron Brundidge, 5, and husband Shawn Brundidge.

Black and Hispanic children continued to be less likely to be identified with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) than white children. These differences suggest that Black and Hispanic children may face socioeconomic or other barriers that lead to a lack of or delayed access to evaluation, diagnosis, and services.

That is the assessment from the Center for Disease Control’s 2018 “Community Report on Autism.” Keep in mind, the report is not suggesting Black kids are less likely to have autism, they are just less likely to be diagnosed. And not being diagnosed can have irreparable consequences. According to the CDC, “Previous studies have shown that stigma, lack of access … are potential barriers to identification of children with ASD. A difference in identifying Black and Hispanic children with ASD relative to white children means these children may not be getting the services they need to reach their full potential.”

Sheletta Brundidge could not agree more.

Brundidge is the mother of four children. Three are autistic – and they were all diagnosed early and are all receiving the help they need to achieve and live full and complete lives. But had she listened to family and friends that might not be the case.

Early on, Brundidge noticed something out of the norm with her second child, Brandon – now 6 years old. She confided in family and friends who told her not to worry and he would “grow out of it; and you don’t want them labeling your child.”

“But you know your own children, and something just wasn’t right,” said Brundidge, autism advocate and host of the “Two Haute Mamas” podcast on WCCO Radio. “So I went on Google and I did research and what I found showed that Brandon was exhibiting signs of autism.”

Living in Houston at the time, Brundidge and her husband, Shawn Brundidge, had their son tested and the tests indicated Brandon indeed was autistic.

“I was devastated. I thought it was a death sentence for him,” said the concerned mother. “I thought that was it; no hope, no college, no kids. I got really depressed.”

Brundidge said she was discussing her situation with a coworker and the coworker advised her help was available.

“My coworker told me about grants and scholarships out there to help. I went on Google that night. Almost immediately I raised $50,000 for Brandon’s therapy,” said Brundidge. “This is my child and I was going to do whatever I had to do. I went into warrior mode.”

Brundidge’s next two children, Cameron and Daniel too were diagnosed with autism. But instead of being depressed, she is encouraged.

“Each of my children receive 40 hours of therapy a week. Brandon and Cameron are in regular classes, and Cameron was the Student of the Month last month – not the Special Student of the Month, but the Student of the Month,” proudly said Brundidge. “Daniel (who is 4 years old) is reading on a first-grade level. You can’t be ashamed; you’ve got to get on top of it early.”

Partnering with the Department of Human Services (DHS) on a new initiative to help parents in communities of color understand the importance of getting kids tested early when they exhibit signs of autism, Brundidge hopes to remove the stigma of autism in communities of color. DHS and Brundidge have created a series of educational videos targeting communities of color stressing the importance of early detection and care.

To learn more about services available to children with – or exhibiting signs of – autism, visit www.mn.gov/autism.

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