Research Finds That Black Children Are Not Identified as Autistic at the Same Rate as Whites

A new study led by Jason Travers, an associate professor of special education at the University of Kansas, found that Blacks and other racial and ethnic minority groups are under-represented in autism diagnoses. Yet, nationwide, Black students are far more likely than White students to be tracked into special education programs.

Dr. Travers’ statistics show that the rates of children being identified as autistic vary greatly from state to state resulting in many students, particularly those from minority communities, not receiving the necessary services that are important to their education.

Dr. Travers compared the percentage of minority students designated with autism to the percentage of White students with autism in each state. The data showed dramatic under-representation of minority students with autism in the majority of states, especially for African-American and Hispanic students. Forty states under-identified African-American students with autism when compared to White students in the same state. Kansas and Iowa were the only states where the rate of autism designations were greater for minority students than was the case for White students.

White students and families traditionally have more access to autism diagnoses and interventions, which can be expensive, Travers said. However, he doesn’t believe White students are over-represented in the autism category. Instead, Travers suspects well-intentioned school leaders may be inadvertently denying minority students autism eligibility due to concerns about exacerbating the widely perceived problem of minority over-representation in general special education programs.

The study, “Racial Disparities in Autism Identification in the United States During 2014,” was co-authored by Michael Krezmien of the University of Massachusetts. The research was published on the website of the journal Exceptional Children. It may be accessed here.

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