Toddler Jonathan Cruz swims with his mother, Jennifer Cruz, left, at a lesson in East Harlem organized by Reach, a program that serves kids with special needs. Credit: Zoë Kirsch/The Teacher Project

In the meantime, there are concrete steps that can be taken by the public health and medical communities to reduce race-related disparities in diagnosis rates and help make early autism support available to all families who need it. Those include screenings for all 2-year-olds rather than just the ones parents or medical professionals suspect of being on the spectrum; improved access to translators and advocates who can reduce the language and cultural gap between parents and doctors; efforts to diversify the ranks of pediatricians and shore up their training in communicating with families of diverse cultures and backgrounds; and partnerships between the medical community and groups like Sinergia, who are doing much of the grass-roots work of reaching underserved families.

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We know that age 2 serves as a critical year for children’s intellectual and social development, and that’s even more the case for toddlers on the spectrum. We can’t rely on all parents to be as strong and knowledgeable advocates for their children as Jennifer Cruz. We need to fix the system.

This story was produced by the Teacher Project, an education reporting fellowship at Columbia Journalism School dedicated to elevating the voices of students and teachers.

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