African Americans and Autism



Our African Americans and Autism page will share information and resources as it relates specifically to autism and people of color.

Although our loved one's development was no longer on target by age three, as he had slowly become non-verbal over time, he was not diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder until age 5½.

The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta and others report black children have significantly higher rates of mild mental retardation than white children do and socioeconomic factors cannot explain the differences. Yeargin-Allsopp M, Drews CD, Decoufle P, Murphy CC Mild mental retardation in black and white children in metropolitan Atlanta: a case-control study. Am J Public Health. 1995 Mar;85(3):324–8. Drews CD, Yeargin-Allsopp M, Decoufle P, Murphy CC Variation in the influence of selected sociodemographic risk factors for mental retardation. Am J Public Health. 1995 Mar;85(3):329–34.

Parents, and in particular African American parents should be persistent in getting their health care provider to listen and to act on your concerns.

Children with autism are expected to have a better prognosis with early diagnosis and early intervention.

African Americans and Autism:
Early Intervention

A recent national study found:

  • The length of time from concerns to early intervention for children with developmental disabilities is much longer than the 5.2 months national average. Children with developmental disabilities on average enter early intervention at age 20 months, much later than other children.


  • Parents of children with developmental delays had more difficulty than parents of children with established conditions or children at risk.


  • Minority families and families with lower incomes or limited education had more difficulty entering the early intervention system.


  • Some families were not aware of a written plan for goals and services.
National Early Intervention Longitudinal Study through a grant from the U.S. Department of Education to SRI International and FPG Child Development Institute


African Americans and
Autism: Research

Gene interaction raises autism risk in blacks and whites

This study is the first to examine the genetics of autism in African Americans, even though the disorder occurs equally across ethnic groups. Gene studies in African-American autism families are rare. Duke University researchers believe the finding will be critical to developing new treatments for both African Americans and Whites.

The study of 54 African American families and 557 Caucasian families in which a member had autism were analyzed. Researchers analyzed genes that regulate a brain chemical or neurotransmitter called GABA along chromosome 15. Chromosome 15 has been linked to autism.

GABA slows down nerve cells from firing once their message has been transmitted. In this way, the neurotransmitter acts as an information filter that prevents the brain from becoming over-stimulated.

If the GABA system malfunctions, the brain can be flooded with sensory information that overwhelms the brain's processing capabilities, leading to some of the behaviors that characterize autism, said Michael Cuccaro, Ph.D ., a Duke clinical psychologist and study co-author.

According to a study co-author, if the GABA system malfunctions, the brain can be flooded with sensory information that overwhelms the brain's processing capabilities leading to some of the behaviors that characterize autism.

Researchers found that in African Americans and Caucasians, the contact of two malfunctioning GABA receptor genes -- GABRB1 and GABRA4 -- can increase the risk of autism. GABA receptors are docking sites on the surface of brain cell neurons. GABA binds to these docking sites and keeps the neurons from firing. GABRA4 increases the risk of autism, and its communication with GABRB1 further increases the risk of autism.

Autism medications, including diazepam (a sedative) and certain antiepileptic drugs already target the GABA system in a wide-ranging manner. Understanding the precise gene to gene interaction may help scientists develop new drugs that specifically target the genes. Scientists believe as many as 100 genes may be involved in autism.

Each ethnic group has unique genes that can interact with autism-associated genes to slightly change the course of the disease.

For example, certain symptoms associated with autism, such as delayed language development and problems handling daily life tasks, are more severe in African American individuals with autism than in Caucasians. Such differences make it important to understand the range of underlying genes that add to the disorder in other ethnic groups.

The most effective drugs are those which aim at the specific genes that are malfunctioning, so researchers must look further to identify which genes play a role for each ethnic group.

Study by National Institutes of Health, the National Alliance of Autism Research, the Hussman Foundation and the Autism Genetic Resource Exchange.

Study: National Institutes of Health, the National Alliance of Autism Research, the Hussman Foundation and the Autism Genetic Resource Exchange.

Source: Investigation of autism and GABA receptor subunit genes in multiple ethnic groups.

More African Americans and
Autism-Related Research

J Autism Dev Disord. 1996 Aug;26(4):461-9.

Professional perceptions of children with developmental difficulties: the influence of race and socioeconomic status.

Cuccaro ML, Wright HH, Rownd CV, Abramson RK, Waller J, Fender D.

University of South Carolina School of Medicine, Columbia, USA.

PMID: 8863096 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=pubmed&dopt=Abstract&list_uids=1836108&query_hl=5


Am J Orthopsychiatry. 1991 Oct;61(4):523-32.

Empowering low-income black families of handicapped children.

Kalyanpur M, Rao SS.

Division of Special Education and Rehabilitation, School of Education, Syracuse University, N.Y.

A qualitative study of four black, low-income, single mothers used in-depth interviews and participant observation to evaluate their interactions with outreach agency professionals. Three perceived aspects (disrespect, focus on deficits, and discounting parenting style differences) were associated with exclusionary (unempowering) relationships. A reciprocal and supportive approach was associated with collaborative (empowering) relationships. Implications of these findings for professionals serving minority families are discussed.

PMID: 1836108 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]





African Americans and Autism Resources

A Parent's Guide to Research is a comprehensive tool written by the Organization for Autism Research to help us find autism information, tell the difference between research-based vs. non-research-based information, identify credible research, evaluate, interpret and apply research findings to our personal situation and needs. A Parent's Guide to Research is currently sold for $5.00.

African Americans and
Autism: Breastfeeding

Did you know...?

Only 29% of all mothers breastfeed. And only 19% of black mothers breastfeed for 6 months, a most crucial time period.
Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher - 1998-2002

Breastfeeding is a natural way to nourish your baby. And helps you to lose weight after delivery. Another added benefit is that breastfeeding your baby lowers the risk of developing breast cancer. An Easy Guide to Breastfeeding for African American Women and Their Families is a supportive tool for women and their families who choose to breastfeed, offering the benefits of breastfeeding for baby, our family and to society, and why it is important for African American mothers to breastfeed.

For more information on how to breastfeed, free stuff and parent resources on breastfeeding click here.

Undetected Vision Problems In
African American Children

Did you know…?

There is a disproportionate rate of vision problems in African American children. Nearly one-third (30 percent) of African-American parents report that their child has never seen an eye care professional.
Source: The Vision Council

Click here for more information and Free Publications To Help Detect Vision Problems.





Disparities in Health and
Special Education

There are clear disparities in health and disparities in special education.

Minority Students in Special and Gifted Education

From the enactment of the 1975 federal law requiring states to provide a free and appropriate education to all students with disabilities, children in some racial/ethnic groups have been identified for services in disproportionately large numbers.

Click here to read the National Acadamies Report, Minority Students in Special and Gifted Education.

To learn more about African Americans and autism view the article, Disparities Among African Americans With Autism.

Famous People With Autistic
Loved Ones

This page shares a list of some famous African Americans and people of color who reportedly have an autistic family member.




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