Samms-Vaughan, Maureen E.; Franklyn-Banton, L.
Author Affiliation, Ana.
The role of early childhood professionals in the early identification of autistic disorder.
International Journal of Early Years Education
Date of Publication
Autism is a pervasive developmental disorder defined by impaired social skills, impaired language development and stereotyped or repetitive behaviours. The increasing prevalence of autism worldwide has made this an important condition among professionals working with young children, including those in Jamaica. Early identification and intervention improves the outcome for autistic children. This article investigates the role of professionals working with young children in the early identification and intervention by reviewing the diagnostic process. A cross-sectional survey of 117 children diagnosed with autism at the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI) in Jamaica over a five-year period was undertaken. Data were collected retrospectively from hospital records on demographic characteristics, presenting features, professionals recommending referral, age of maternal concern and age at diagnosis. The mean age of maternal concern was 21.3 ± 10.9 months, but the mean age at diagnosis was 43.8 ± 17.8 months. The main behaviour resulting in parental concern was language development, occurring in some 85% of children. The majority of children (76.2%) were referred to the UHWI diagnostic centre by specialist medical personnel. First contact education and health sector professionals referred only 5.6% and 4.6% of children, respectively. Low socio-economic status was a significant factor affecting delay in diagnosis. The study has shown significant delays in diagnosis of autism, despite early concern by mothers. The study recommends general public education on the features of autism, as well as education targeted at first-contact health and education professionals. Professionals should also be educated on the use of simple screening tools and the referral process to the diagnostic centre, to reduce diagnostic delay.....