The rate of autism in children of all races is on the rise; however, students who are black, Hispanic, or American Indian are less likely to be identified with an autism spectrum disorder compared to white and Asian students. This is according to a new study published in The Journal of Special Education.
In the study, researchers figured out a risk index — a percentage of all enrolled students from a racial group with a specific disability. The index was based on data collected by the federal government from 1998 to 2006 regarding students in special education.
The overall risk of being categorized as having autism increased for all racial groups over that time period, from 0.09 percent to 0.37 percent.
However, white students were twice as likely to be identified as having an autism spectrum disorder as students who were Hispanic or American Indian/Alaska Native.
For Hispanic and American Indian students, the likelihood of autism diagnosis dropped behind the rate for students overall for every year during the study period.
In 1998 and 1999, black students were actually more likely than the overall student population to be identified as having autism.
But for the rest of the years in the research, they became less likely than the overall student population to carry that diagnosis. So, although every group’s rate was going up, the rates of groups other than black students were increasing much faster.
That switch from over-representation to under-representation was “pretty remarkable,” said study lead author Jason Travers, Ph.D., an assistant professor at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. Although it remains unclear why this is happening, some hypotheses are that minority students are being diagnosed with disabilities other than autism or they may be getting identified later than their white peers.
The likelihood of Asian students being diagnosed with autism was also higher than that of the overall student population for all of the years that were studied, coming very close to the risk index for white students.
Potential under-representation matters, Travers said, because early identification and treatment of autism is considered essential for best outcomes.
Identifying minority students “requires a great deal of cultural competence, to ensure disadvantaged children are not restricted from early intervention services,” he said.
Source: The Journal of Special Education