Disparities Among African Americans
With Autism

Studies have found disparities among African Americans with autism and other disabiilties, which call for our immediate attention to ensure that all persons with autism may live up to their full potential.

African Americans living with autism need their family members, professionals and advocates to notice and take a definite interest in this issue. Disparities in health and special education must be included as a major part of our autism awareness message.

Our loved ones can be adversely affected throughout their lifespan if disparities in early diagnosis and treatment, health, special education and the criminal justice system are allowed to persist.

Click on the link below to view research findings by Hart Research Associates to get a better perspective of The State of Black Children and Families: Black Perspectives On What Black Children Face And What The Future Holds

Disparities Among African Americans With Autism is an article written to help open the dialogue on some challenging issues our loved ones could likely face. This article also offers specific ideas on what first-steps parents, families and caregivers can take to help overturn them.

Disparities Among African Americans
With Autism And Other Disabilities

by Wanda Brown

Autism is a complicated neurodevelopmental disorder nowaffecting 1 in 91 children at an early age, and is expected tolast a lifetime. Autism can often be diagnosed in children asyoung as 18 months old, and affects every race, ethnic group andsocio-economic status.

A child with autism will show different behaviors than typicaldeveloping children. Parents become concerned that their childmay lack eye contact, be deaf, is not yet talking, resistscuddling, needs repetitive routines, have repetitive interests, and avoids interacting with others.

These behaviors may begin shortly after birth or develop as achild grows older.

Symptoms may range from mild to severe. Mental retardation iscommonly associated with autism. Epilepsy may also develop insome cases.

African Americans and 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: 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.

For more information check out: http://www.child-autism-parent-cafe.com/african-americans-and-autism.html.

Healthcare, African-Americans and autism

There are clear racial disparities in healthcare and specialeducation, parents and caregivers must help arrest to ensure abrighter future for our loved ones with autism.

Studies have consistently reported negative biases towardminorities in the areas of diagnosis and treatment.

Black autistic children were diagnosed later, received moremisdiagnoses than Whites, and were more likely to bemisdiagnosed as having organic psychoses, mental retardation, orselective mutism.

Clinicians may interpret autism symptoms differently inchildren of different races.

African-Americans are less likely than Whites to see the samedoctor over time. A pediatrician who treats a child over timemay recognize autism sooner than others may.

All children with autism are eligible to receive a free appropriate public education, services provided by your state, behavioral treatments and enrollment in a classroom geared toward their condition.

Early diagnosis and early intervention is critical for a better prognosis. Minority families and families with lower incomes or limited education had more difficulty entering the early intervention system. National Early Intervention Longitudinal Study

The probability of parents having a second child with autism is 1 in 20.

Excerpts from Race Differences in the Age at Diagnosis AmongMedicaid-Eligible Children with Autism, David S. Mandell, Sc.D.,John Listerud, M.D., Ph.D.More information on disparities in health available at: http://www.child-autism-parent-cafe.com/disparities-in-health.html

Disparities in Early Intervention

Children with autism are expected to have a better prognosis with early diagnosis and 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.
Source: National Early Intervention Longitudinal Study through a grant from the U.S. Department of Education to SRI International and FPG Child Development Institute

For more information on early intervention go to: http://www.child-autism-parent-cafe.com/early-intervention.html.

Special Education, African-Americans and Autism

Minority children with disabilities all too often experienceinadequate services, low-quality curriculum and instruction,unnecessary isolation from their nondisabled peers and hardship.

African-American students are about twice as likely as Whitestudents to be educated in a restrictive, and separateeducational setting. Minority disabled students also have muchhigher rates of school disciplinary action.

Excerpts: Racial Inequity in Special Education, 2002, Daniel J. Losen & Gary Orfield, Editors, Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.

For resources and more information on Disparities In Special Education visit: http://www.child-autism-parent-cafe.com/disparities-in-special-education.html.

Discrimination in School Discipline

"Zero Tolerance" policies have an unequal impact on minority children and children with disabilities. The amended Individuals with Disabilities Education Act provides wide-ranging protections for children with autism and other disabilities. These provisions were meant to make certain under the appropriate circumstances, that the impact of their disabilities are taken into consideration when giving out punishments. In many circumstances, school officials are ignoring the law, and parents and students are probably unaware of their rights or unable to enforce them.

Source: Opportunities Suspended: The Devastating Consequences of Zero Tolerance and School Discipline Policies

Students of color are also disproportionately suspended:

  • African-American children only represent 17% of public school enrollment, but 33% of out-of-school suspensions. White students, 63% of public school enrollment, represent only 50% of suspensions.
  • In Minnesota, for example, 25% of African-American students were suspended.
  • Latino students are also singled out for discipline; in Tennessee, more than 38% of Latino students have been suspended.
  • Research shows that these disparities are not due to poverty or inherently bad behavior. Students of color are more likely to be suspended for non-violent, minor misconduct such as disobedience, disruption, and disrespect of authority.
Source: Civil Rights Project School Discipline Action Kit, which answers basic questions about discriminatory school discipline practices, and suggests ways for parents to fight them in their children's schools.

Contact for additional resources and information:

The Civil Rights Project / Proyecto Derechos Civiles
8370 Math Sciences, Box 951521
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1521
(310) 267-5562
Send E-mail

African-American Adults with Disabilities

Among high school students with disabilities, about 75% of African-Americans are not employed two years out of school.

Three to five years out of school, the arrest rate forAfrican-Americans with disabilities is 40%. Minority disabledstudents also have much higher rates of placement incorrectional facilities.

Excerpts from Racial Inequity in Special Education, 2002,Daniel J. Losen & Gary Orfield, Editors, Cambridge, MA: HarvardEducation Press.Click here to view the study "Autism Spectrum Disorder Grown Up: A Chart Review of Adult Functioning".

What can we do to help overturn these disparities?

We can start this process today by taking six powerful steps to overturn these disparities and help African Americans with autism reach their full potential.

Be persistent! Parents and caregivers must be persistent and get their child's healthcare providers to listen and act in response to your concerns.

Know your child's rights! Learn about the federal special education laws and state regulations which exist to ensure your child with a disability receives an Individualized Education Plan and related services they can benefit from in the least restrictive environment.

Seek help! There are advocacy groups and educational advocates accessible to help you get a "free appropriate public education" that every child with autism is legally entitled to. Access any needed supports and services provided by your state.

Join a national autism organization. There is power in numbers. Our voices can and will be heard within a powerful group message.

Get involved! Attend local parent support group meetings to learn what issues are important to persons with autism and their families, and what steps are necessary to address them. Start networking with other parents.

Take action! Write or call on local and congressional lawmakers to report your issues and concerns. Make them alert to how autism affects your child and family.

Autism is not hopeless, and parents are not helpless.

We can learn more about important issues, how to advocate for our loved ones and cause immediate reform and better outcomes for all persons with autism.


Click here for practical ways to help, plan and manage daily living with autism.

African Americans and Autism

Disparities in Health

Disparities in Special Education

NAACP is a 21st century advocacy organization that fights for the advancement of minority groups by bridging the gaps in seven advocacy areas including education, economic empowerment, healthcare, criminal justice, civic engagement, international affairs and poverty issues.

The book Covenant With Black America outlines ways to address challenging issues facing African-Americans today, like health and education.

About this author
Wanda Brown is a wife, mother, grandmother, presenter at parent support groups, member autism support groups, national autism organizations, former legal assistant, service coordinator, and Board member to non-profit organizations, autism Advisory Groups, appeared on Cable 6 TV, XM Radio One, Tavis Smiley Radio, CNN Radio, WDIG and KCSN Radio.

© Copyright 2005 - 2011. Wanda Brown. All rights reserved. Please feel free to publish this article on your web site and/or in your e-book or newsletters without any changes to the article, the author resource box information at the end of the article remains intact, and the links are live (clickable). Please e-mail a link to your site where the article is posted.

Other Resources

Racial inequities pervade special education in U.S. schools today. Minority children -- especially African Americans-- are far more likely than white children to be designated mentally retarded or emotionally disturbed and therefore in need of special education. Even when appropriately placed in special education classes, minority children often receive poorer services than disabled white children.

This book explores the inequities experienced by minority schoolchildren in special education. These issues are examined as problems in their own right, and as reflections of persistent racial inequities in our system of public education. Racial Inequity in Special Education describes the scope of these problems, and provides a comprehensive review of attempts by legislators, child advocates, and educational and civil rights enforcement agencies to address these complex issues. The authors outline essential areas for further research and dialogue.

An illuminating account of a widespread problem that has received little attention until now, Racial Inequity in Special Education sets the stage for a more fruitful discussion about special education and racial justice -- a discussion that aims to advance racial equity in both special and general education.

Losen, D. & Orfield, G. (Eds.) (2002). Racial Inequity in Special Education, Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.

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