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Good Samaritan’s Pediatric Chief Offers Autism Insight to Latino Community

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Good Samaritan’s Pediatric Chief Offers Autism Insight to Latino Community


A growing need for information relating to autism within Latino communities provided an opportunity for Sarita Duchatelier, MD, Chief of Pediatric Neurology for Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center, to join the National Supermarket Association (NSA) at a one day event focused on educating parents in the Freeport community on the importance of awareness and acceptance of children with autism.

The event, held at the Caroline G. Atkinson School in Freeport, also featured Telemundo’s on-air autism awareness ambassador Sofia Lachapelle who unveiled her new chrildren’s educational book on autism; “A Special Superhero, Un Superheroe Especial;” which is written in both English and Spanish.

In addition, Rodolfo Cano, a Community Relations Specialist with Nassau/Fidelis Care was on hand to show support for parents of autistic children and to convey the importance of having proper medical insurance, since this is a life-time disorder requiring chronic care.

Dr. Duchatelier’s presentation focused on the views of autism in the 1950’s and how it is presented now. She explained that parents, particularly mothers, were frequently blamed when children presented themselves with autism. “They were called refrigerator moms. The idea was that they were being cold with these children creating a disconnection between the mother and child. The result, they believed, was that created a disconnection with the world,” she explained.

Years of research has led to an understanding that this is not the case. “An early diagnosis makes a difference,” said Dr. Duchatelier. “The child who comes to me now, at six or seven, is a very late diagnosis. At a research level, they are looking at six month old babies who don’t have something called mirror neurons. Facial recognition is a big issue and obviously at six months the parents feel that something is different.”

Dr. Duchatelier, who founded the Pediatric Neurology program at Good Samaritan 18-years ago, said that 50-100 people were in attendance with 90% of those Spanish speaking residents from Colombia, Peru and the Dominican Republic. She said that NSA intended the program to provide the Latino community with information to which they might otherwise not have access. “I felt it was a nice grassroots community service and working for Catholic Health Services it was important and a good place to be.”

Dr. Duchatelier, who has an older brother who is an adult neurologist and a younger brother with Downs’ Syndrome, said she emphasizes the importance of an early diagnosis and having an interdisciplinary team in place when caring for children who have special needs; including a physician, early intervention, resources, schools and therapy.

Dr. Duchatelier said that bringing this information to the community and highlighting what resources are available is something she hopes to continue through workshops in areas like Freeport.  “Spending 30 minutes or an hour with parents during a doctor’s appointment isn’t enough time to explain the importance of early intervention for a child. With more time I can explain what autism is and find parents and community leaders who become advocates for these children. They will be the force to help find better treatment modalities for children with autism.”

Dr. Duchatelier has a Doctorate of Medicine from SUNY Health Science Center at Brooklyn. She did a Pediatric Residency at North Shore University Hospital, and a Fellowship in Pediatric Neurology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. She has been with Good Samaritan Hospital for the past 18 years.

According to its website, the NSA is a trade association that represents the interests of independent supermarket owners in New York and the East Coast. It represents 400 supermarkets. Each member must own at least one supermarket. The majority of the members are of Hispanic descent and their stores are predominantly located in minority neighborhoods.  It was founded in 1989 by Hispanic entrepreneurs and has grown significantly during the past two decades. In the past decade, the NSA Scholarship Foundation has granted more than $1 million in educational scholarships to deserving students from underprivileged neighborhoods served by its members.