Shriver Center expert to train national autism leaders to consider culture when screening for delays

May 26, 2015

Autism advocate Elaine Gabovitch, MPA, will co-teach Act Early teams from Massachusetts as well as six visiting states about how to consider cultural differences when screening young children for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) during a two-day Peer-to-Peer Exchange event through a collaboration between the Massachusetts Act Early Program and the national Association of Maternal & Child Health Programs (AMCHP) to be hosted at the Boston Children’s Museum next month.

“Cultural and linguistic differences can impact a health professional’s ability to identify and screen young children for developmental disabilities such as autism,” said Gabovitch, family faculty in the Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities (LEND) program at the Shriver Center, part of UMass Medical School's Commonwealth Medicine division. Gabovitch also is an instructor in the Department of Family Medicine & Community Health.

“If we don’t understand how cultural customs and standards influence parent and caregiver perspectives, delays can be missed,” said Gabovitch, who is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “Learn the Signs. Act Early.” Ambassador to Massachusetts, as well as State Team Leader for the Massachusetts Act Early Program.

Gabovitch will deliver the training on June 16 with Roula Choueiri, MD, associate professor of pediatrics and the division chief of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics at UMass Memorial Children's Medical Center. The training will take place on the first of a two-day peer exchange entitled Considering Culture in Autism Screening & Systems of Care. Day one will be a full summit meeting of all MA Act Early state team members along with out-of-state visitors; Day two will be a focused peer-to-peer leadership exchange meeting.

Peer exchange participants include representatives from Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire and Virginia who lead AMCHP-funded initiatives to improve their states’ programs and services for children with autism and developmental disabilities.

Designed with funding from the Deborah Munroe Noonan Memorial Research Fund and with additional support from the CDC and Porter Novelli, the training will explain the unique needs of families from immigrant backgrounds and how to successfully screen, evaluate and refer young children from these populations. The training provides examples of effective care when working with leading populations for whom English is not their first language: Hispanic, Chinese, Haitian, Indian, Cape Verdean, and Vietnamese.

The training incorporates the Considering Culture in Autism screening kit Gabovitch and her project team developed in 2012 with AMCHP funding.

On June 17, day two of the peer exchange, state teams will share their AMCHP-funded initiatives with the group and discuss how to integrate cultural competency.