Study Finds a Racial Gap in the Timing of Diagnoses of Autism Disorders

Diagnosing autism in children as early as possible is essential to improving their language, social and cognitive skills. But often the diagnosis is made relatively late — even after some children begin elementary school. A new study led by researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis finds that diagnostic delays and barriers in access to developmental therapy for those with autism are particularly pronounced among children from minority groups.

In this study involving 584 African American children at four autism centers across the United States, the average African American child already was almost 5½ years old at the time of diagnosis, despite the fact parents first had expressed concerns about their kids’ development more than three years earlier. Nationally, White children are diagnosed an average of six months earlier than African American children.

“This study reveals major roadblocks to receiving a diagnosis of autism, which has significant consequences for young children and their families,” said the paper’s first author, John N. Constantino, the Blanche F. Ittleson Professor of Psychiatry and Pediatrics at Washington University. “In our current national conversation about race, preventable disparities in diagnosis and treatment services deserve a high priority because failure to address these disparities may seriously compromise outcomes for children affected by autism. We must do better.”

The full study, “Timing of the Diagnosis of Autism in African American Children,” was published in the journal Pediatrics. It may be accessed here.

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