30 Days of Autism: Autism and Race

Autism has been diagnosed across all racial groups, however, there are disparities in diagnosis and possibly in prevalence among groups. In the United States, on average, black autistic children are diagnosed at older ages than white autistic children. Hispanic children are less likely than white children to receive a diagnosis at all. Unfortunately, a majority of autism studies have not gathered ethnic background information and of those that did gather such data, only some analyzed racial and ethnic data implications.

A Pennsylvania survey study designed to research reasons for delayed diagnosis found that children considered “near-poor” were diagnosed nearly a year later than children from average-income families. A study of Medicaid-eligible children found that autistic African-American children were more likely to be misdiagnosed with another condition before being correctly diagnosed, such as an adjustment or conduct disorder.

In part delayed and lower rates of autism diagnosis may be a result of “statistical discrimination“. If doctors expect autism to primarily impact white males, they will be less likely to recognize symptoms of autism in non-white, non-male patients.

For communities that speak a primary language other than English, there may be additional burdens. A survey of California pediatricians found that less than 1/3rd offered autism screening questionnaires in Spanish, for example. A series of qualitative interviews with Latino parents of autistic children found that “poverty, limited English proficiency and lack of empowerment to take advantage of services” created barriers to autism diagnoses.

Hopefully as “autism awareness” continues, all autistic people will be able to get the diagnoses and services they may need. As it currently stands, white children are significantly more likely to be diagnosed and to be diagnosed early.

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