Race & Autism (AA23)

Autism does not just affect white boys.

But historically, the diagnostic criteria has been focused around how it presents in white children (especially boys — but that will be the topic tomorrow).

Some good news is that recently, and looking at trends over the years, this seems to be changing. For the first time in 2020, in the CDC’s ongoing study of autism, they found that children of color were being diagnosed at rates equal to or even greater than white children. This is a trend that’s been shifting in the last decade. As recently as the late ‘00s, white children were diagnosed up to 1.7x as often. 

An important note in the CDC data is that it measures diagnosis by the age of 8, which screens out disparities in early intervention. Differences in parenting styles, pediatricians’ assumptions of parenting styles across cultures, access to healthcare resources, English as a primary language, parental education about child development, etc can all affect whether or not children are diagnosed early enough to receive free governmental early intervention (EI) services or supports on an IEP in school. First-generation immigrant families are even more likely to struggle to receive services, including Asian and Latino families who may not speak English, whose translator may not be able to provide in-depth high-quality medical and neurological translations, who may have stigma against diagnosis in their communities, or who might have different expectations or understandings of what a “typical” child “should” look like.

Although, as a word of caution and nuance, EI services are often touted as the end-all be-all of making a difference in autistic kids’ lives and “success” — but that often means measuring on a scale of “how much did we successfully make this child look non-autistic”, i.e., by recommending ABA therapy and other types of resources along those lines.

(A couple more links for reading if you’re still interested:
US Data on Autism Prevalence among Racial Groups

Bias in Nonwhite Groups

Asian-American Unique Struggles with Autism Diagnosis )

Regardless of amounts of diagnosis, there’s no disputing that autism is not only present in white children — it’s a neurological difference that occurs across races. Given that, it’s not hard to guess that a Black autistic person and a white autistic person may have very different experiences in the school system, the healthcare system, the justice system…

Any system which struggles with systemic racism in America (which would be basically all of them), and struggles with ableism (which, again, is very nearly all of them) is going to have an intersectional crisis when race and ability collide.

Autistic kids of color are expelled or suspended from schools disproportionately more often than white kids. 

Autistic adults of color are more likely to be arrested after encounters with the police, which are more likely to happen in the first place, due in part to the American systemic lack of mental health resources to call instead, leaving people to call 911 because they see someone they think is behaving oddly. And of course there are major incidents where Black, Autistic people have been shot or tased or killed because they didn’t behave the way police expect them to (e.g., not making eye contact, echoing words, being nonspeaking, etc) and because police aren’t held to a standard of accountability for the people they kill in America.

Black children with similar presentations to white children are more likely to be diagnosed with ODD as opposed to ADHD or ASD — 

The intersectionality of autism and race is a complicated one. Pushing for radical acceptance of neurodiversity can’t just stop at white neurodiversity. Every person of every race deserves support and love and acceptance and humanity and safety.

[Image description: A screenshot of a tweet by Lauren Melissa whose twitter handle is @aspienelle. It reads, “White children are more likely to be diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder and ADHD than black children. Black children are over-diagnosed with Oppositional Defiance Disorder. What does this tell us about how the education and medical systems view POC? #BlackDisabledLivesMatter” End description.]