Autism spectrum disorders underdiagnosed in Indigenous people

Six Nations is one of many Indigenous communities across Canada where autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are underdiagnosed.

Jacqueline Smith, Program Supervisor at Six Nations Child and Youth, says diagnostic rates are lower here even though statistics are scarce on the reserve.

“We do not have specific stats but we do know that there is an underrepresentation in this community compared to children identified/diagnoses in surrounding areas,” said Smith. “This is one of the main reasons why we are expanding our programs on Six Nations to ensure we are able to support children with ASD and their families.”

This Saturday, April 2, marks annual World Autism Awareness Day.

There is no dedicated autism support program at Six Nations Health Services – yet.

The team at Six Nations Health is working with Autism Ontario to increase programming on the reserve to help people with ASD.

Autism Spectrum Disorder refers to a range of symptoms that can affect a person emotionally, intellectually, socially and behaviourally. People with ASD can have interpersonal difficulties, trouble recognizing social cues others take for granted, rigid behaviour patterns and obsessions with routine or certain subjects, dislike socializing, refuse to make eye contact, and engage in “stimming” behaviours (self-stimulation) such as hand-flapping, rocking back and forth and humming, among a host of other symptoms. They can also be overwhelmed by too much sensory input, via sight, sound, taste, touch, etc.

Some people with ASD are completely non-verbal (unable to speak), while others on the spectrum can have advanced language skills and a higher-than-average intellect. That’s why it’s a spectrum, as autism-type symptoms can manifest so broadly among different people.

Some famous people who have ASD include Jerry Seinfeld, Carl Sagan, Sir Isaac Newton, and Mozart, to name a few.

Some require intensive, daily support in the home and school, while others live independently.

Smith said Six Nations is soon going to be rolling out new autism services to complement the existing services for youth with ASD on the reserve.

“We are looking to expand programs connected to the Ontario Autism Program,” she said, with more updates on what those programs will look like to come.

Currently, there are no diagnostic services for young people with ASD on Six Nations. Those suspected to be on the spectrum are referred off-reserve for a diagnosis, and that’s something the health team at Six Nations Child and Youth can help families with, said Smith.

“Besides that, we do offer services through Six Nations of the Grand River that support children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, for example, case management, speech, occupational therapy, etc.,” she said. “We would connect families with resources within the community and surrounding communities. If there is an unmet need, we can connect with Jordan’s Principle, as well.”

To connect with supports through the Child and Youth Health Team please email oapinformation@sixnations.ca or call 519-445-4983.

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