It is estimated that Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) affects 1 in 500 births per year. However, because of varying techniques for diagnosis and treatment, the disability remains the subject of debate. Growing evidence demonstrates that although rates of diagnosis for autism occur at the same rates in all racial groups, diagnosis in African-American children occurs later than in White children. As a result, African-American children may require longer and more intensive intervention.
The Association for Science in Autism Treatment (ASAT) studied this disparity and revealed that Black children with intellectual disabilities receive an autism diagnosis an average of six months later than comparable White children. Black parents, on average, made three times more visits to doctors to obtain an ASD diagnosis than their White counterparts.
These setbacks in diagnosing Black children usually translate into a delay in skill acquisition, reduced access to early intervention, and an increased risk of challenging behaviors.
Researchers believe that these delays in autism diagnosis may be a contributing factor in the high rate of intellectual disability among Black autistic children in the United States.
A second discovery was that more than one-third of the Black families reported long wait times to see a professional.
Black parents reported that practitioners would assume that they did not have private insurance. Because of this, these parents may not be offered the benefits of available treatment options. While the diagnostic prevalence of autism is about the same across races, there is a disproportionality of Black children who have a diagnosis of autism and have an intellectual disability.
A study conducted in 2020 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that 22 percent of White children with autism also have an intellectual disability, but among African-American children, the rate of intellectual disability in those with autism amounted to a much higher percentage.
“These delays are believed to play a significant role in an even more serious health disparity which involves the proportion of children with autism who are additionally affected by intellectual disability,” said Dr. John N. Constantino, director of the Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Center at Washington University.
In 2006, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended screening for all children for autism during routine pediatrician visits at 18 and 24 months.
The CDC stressed that a diagnosis of autism—by at least 8 years of age—can provide children with greater access to specialized services and special education than do diagnoses of other conditions.
“You would never allow a kid with cancer to experience these waits,” said Dr. Kristin Sohl with the American Academy of Pediatrics, “so early diagnosis can make a difference. Symptoms of some kids who begin their therapy by age 2 or 3 can be greatly reduced.”