Shriver Center Autism Expert to Develop Training to Improve Screening for Autism Spectrum Disorders among Diverse Cultures

Teaching Massachusetts pediatricians how to sensitively navigate diverse cultures while screening children for autism spectrum disorders will be the focus of a pilot project led by Elaine M. Gabovitch, an autism expert at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver Center, a unit within UMass Medical School’s Commonwealth Medicine division. Gabovitch was awarded $80,000 from the Deborah Munroe Noonan Memorial Research Fund.

“If a physician doesn’t understand the culture or speak the language… children from non-English speaking families may not be picked up and get the services they need to progress,” said Gabovitch, director of the Center’s Family & Community Partnerships.

“The pilot will focus on helping pediatric providers overcome cultural barriers during the screening and referral process,” said Gabovitch, who also serves as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s autism awareness campaign Ambassador to Massachusetts.

Varying cultural expectations and/or language differences between physicians and patients could mean some children from non-English speaking backgrounds are identified later than recommended, or not at all, Gabovitch said.

The grant award announced today will support the design of a training curriculum to help bridge that gap. It will be developed from the

Considering Culture in Autism

screening kit created by Gabovitch and a team through a 2012 grant from

the Association of Maternal and Child Health Programs.

While the training will be designed to help pediatricians deliver culturally competent care to children from any linguistic background, four populations will be featured to illustrate such care in practice: Hispanic, Chinese, Haitian Creole and Vietnamese. These groups represent the leading populations in Massachusetts for whom English is not their first language.

The pilot training will be implemented in March 2014 with sixty pediatric residents at Boston Medical Center and the Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts Medical Center in Boston. A video production company specializing in intercultural communications will film case study video vignettes that will be embedded in the final training module.

A report including measures of knowledge and attitude before and after training will be written next fall. The module will be submitted for inclusion in the CDC Autism Case Training curriculum.

The University of Massachusetts Medical School, one of the fastest-growing academic health sciences centers in the country, has built a reputation as a world-class research institution, consistently producing noteworthy advances in clinical and basic research. The Medical School attracts more than $255 million in research funding annually, 80 percent of which comes from federal funding sources. The mission of the Medical School is to advance the health and well-being of the people of Massachusetts and the world, through pioneering education, research, public service and health care delivery. Commonwealth Medicine, the Medical School’s health care consulting and operations division, provides a wide range of care management and consulting services to government agencies and health care organizations. For more information, visit