Why Do Black and Brown Children with Autism Go Overlooked?


Black and Hispanic children are often overlooked when it comes to autism spectrum disorder. Because they are more likely to be diagnosed with the disorder later in life, they usually miss out on chances for early intervention and adequate treatment. 

A new study published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders looks at why this is. Professor Kristen Gillespie-Lynch, Rita Obeid, and Sabine Saade (all of both the College of Staten Island and The Graduate Center), along with Alexandra Cosenza and Faith James (of CSI) worked to determine whether implicit or explicit racial bias played a part in why autism spectrum disorder may not be quickly identified in Black and Hispanic children.

“Delays in ASD diagnosis are most consistently documented among racial and ethnic minority groups,” the authors wrote. “Even after overcoming delays in diagnosis, Black and Hispanic children may receive lower-quality healthcare than White children.” 

In the study, researchers gave a group of college students two implicit association tests. They showed the participants vignettes of Black and white children with either autism spectrum disorder or conduct disorder — conduct disorder is severely stigmatized, the authors noted.

“Participants who identified as White implicitly associated the White child with ASD and the Black child with CD. A trend in the reverse direction was observed among Black participants,” the authors found. 

“Accurately identifying ASD was associated with reduced explicit stigma; identifying CD led to more stigma. Findings highlight a need for training to ameliorate biases favoring one’s in-group.”

Black children with autism spectrum disorder are twice as likely to be misdiagnosed with conduct disorder. Researchers say factors that lead to this misidentification are “socioeconomic disparities in access to information and healthcare, communication barriers, cultural differences in stigma, views about development, trust in professionals and/or help-seeking behaviors, and biases among professionals.” 

“Socioeconomic inequality reduces the likelihood that less affluent autistic children will be diagnosed in a timely manner (or at all) and contributes to racial disparities in ASD diagnoses in the US, where healthcare is not universally available,” the researchers note. “Not only does potential misdiagnosis of Black children with CD limit their access to appropriate supports, it likely engenders stigma.” 

The college students were more likely to associate autism spectrum disorder with children of their own racial group. The evidence of bias found in the results means that researchers and leaders should examine implicit biases among healthcare and school-based professionals, the authors concluded.

Beyond SUM

Work By

Kristen Gillespie-Lynch (Assistant Professor, Developmental Psychology) | Profile 1