• Julia Rubino

Autism Disparities and Racism

Being on the autism spectrum and often being overlooked or omitted is a challenge, but what happens when you also happen to be Black and face more than just the roadblocks that follow this neurodevelopmental disorder? Autism, also known as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), is a developmental disorder that causes social, communication, and behavioural challenges. It affects children from diverse racial and socioeconomic backgrounds, yet disparity still exists in services. The autism prevalence monitoring program discovered that White children were 30 percent more likely to be diagnosed with autism than Black children, and they are 50 percent more likely to be diagnosed with autism than Hispanic children. Researching and learning how cultural differences may waive a medical professional’s judgement when evaluating a child for an autism diagnosis is essential to spread awareness of autism throughout the broader community. These cultural differences may also influence family perspective and experience of autism in conjunction with how cultural differences influence treatment options and intervention approaches. It begins with identifying the root of the problem and putting an end to this discrimination.


A study, published through Pediatrics, found that there is an average three-year lag between the initial parental concern over developmental delay and an ASD diagnosis for African American children. Many people may not see this as a prominent issue, but the aftermath and the cause-and-effect analysis is worrisome to a high degree. In 2020 alone, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that one-in-54 children in the United States (U.S.) are diagnosed with autism, which can affect all ethnic groups. Young Black males are almost three times as likely to be killed by police than their White male counterparts, and those with autism are seven times more likely to come in contact with police compared to “neurotypical” individuals. Due to the severity of their ASD, some people on the autism spectrum may have difficulty following commands or reacting to officers appropriately. These situations are inevitable, and the only way to correctly solve them is by offering culturally competent police training and putting an end to racism in the entire police force.


The process of getting an autism diagnosis is complicated, and a child’s assessment usually requires multiple visits with a diagnostic team that is spread out by a couple of weeks or a month. Due to the limited capacity of providers who are qualified to make a diagnosis, the waitlists for assessments tend to be long; increasing the lengthy process even more. However, families with greater resources might bypass the long wait by paying thousands of dollars for a private assessment on a facilitated timeline. Studies have shown that Black children are less likely than White children to be diagnosed with autism, and more likely than White children to be diagnosed with an intellectual disability, developmental delays, behavioural problems, speech disorders, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. These studies suggest that Black children are often misdiagnosed, potentially leading to greater problems as they age. There are many structures in place that also make it difficult for minority populations to have access to healthcare and medical and educational services. There are geographical issues, meaning that families in certain parts of the U.S. have less resources and a limited workforce to perform the diagnostic assessments. This can also lead to challenges when it comes to accessing special education. There’s also stigma and bias when it comes to accessing medical services. Parents and guardians will not bring their children) somewhere where they are uncomfortable or unwelcomed. Everyone deserves the same treatment and respect that any White child may receive.


It is safe to say that racism is a taboo subject in the medical field, and most people would not assume that it exists when it actually does. Black autistic individuals experience a great deal of obstacles from a social standpoint, including identity and intersectionality oppression, access to care, stigma and community understanding impediments as well as police brutality. It is about time that these issues get resolved so discrimination in the medical field can end. Besides, medical field is the one place where discrimination should not exist. Medical professionals must offer the same quality of care to every patient despite their age, race, religion, or values. Autism is just one of the many ways where only White people have better access to assessments, treatments, special education and care. Every child deserves to feel acknowledged and deserves the right to be diagnosed correctly and appropriately. Speak up and aim for change so that every child, no matter the race, will receive the decency and compassion they deserve.


Works Cited

Vigo, Lynn, et al. “Autism and Race.” Seattle Children’s Hospital, 9 Apr. 2015, theautismblog.seattlechildrens.org/autism-and-race.

Palumbo, Jennifer. “Why You Should Care About Black Autistic Lives And CESSA.” Forbes, 1 Sept. 2020, www.forbes.com/sites/jenniferpalumbo/2020/09/01/black-autistic-lives-matter/?sh=52c41aaa427d.

Wright, Jessica. “U.S. Autism Prevalence in Black Children Based on Few Families.” Spectrum | Autism Research News, 4 May 2019, www.spectrumnews.org/news/u-s-autism-prevalence-in-black-children-based-on-few-families.

Bailey, Meryl. “Autism Disparities and Racism: An Interview with Sarabeth Broder-Fingert, MD, MPH.” Boston Medical Center, HealthCity, 27 Aug. 2020, www.bmc.org/healthcity/policy-and-industry/autism-disparities-and-racism-interview-asd-expert.

“Obstacles Black Autistic Individuals Face.” American Autism Association, 3 Mar. 2021, www.myautism.org/news-features/stigma-black-individuals-on-the-spectrum-face.

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