Racial Disparity in Diagnosis

Contributed by AAoM’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee

“I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Although this was a dream outlined by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963, the reality of this vision is still a work in progress.  As we look at the staggering number of children being diagnosed with autism (1:54) per the CDC , the racial disparity is present per data presented. Based on research by the University of Pennsylvania, African American boys are 5 times more likely to be diagnosed with a behavioral disorder, instead of autism, unlike their white counterparts.  Children of color are also less likely to receive mental health services for comorbidities associated with autism. These disparities may be the result of differences in seeking help, advocacy, support, and clinician behaviors per the Journal of The American Academy Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. 

There is no quick fix answer to the disparity of racial diagnosis, treatment and early detection. There are some early warning signs that families can identify and address with their pediatrician for further assessment.  If your child is school-aged, contact the Michigan Alliance for Families or Michigan Department of Education (MDE) for additional tips and resources surrounding the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), behavioral interventions, and school certification. Families can also seek mental health support for caregivers and patients through Psychology Today, Find a Therapist. As always, the Autism Alliance of Michigan is here to support you and help you navigate.

Though the work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. lives on, it is our turn to be advocates for the fate of our children.  By being vigilant and bold we can decrease the racial disparity in early detection, diagnosis and treatment and increase the possibility of positive outcomes. 

African American and Latino Children are often overlooked when it comes to Autism
Data and Statistics on Autism Disorder
Race Differences in the Age at Diagnosis Among Medicaid-Eligible Children With Autism