Autism Diagnosis Delayed for African American Children

February 23, 2012  |  

Approximately 1 in 110 children in the United States is autistic; and while the prevalence of the condition is virtually the same among blacks and whites, a new study found that black children typically aren’t diagnosed until a full year-and-a-half later than white children.

Researchers are dredging up the usual explanations for the delay: lack of access to quality and affordable health care. But according to Martell Teasley, an associate professor in the College of Social Work at Florida State University in Tallahassee, “social stigma attached to mental health issues within the black community” may also play a role because it leads to “less discussion about autism among African Americans or between African Americans and health care providers.” Lack of trust in the health care system may also cause parents to resist seeking treatment, even when signs of the disorder are evident.

Teasley has a point. A recent study found that black people are diagnosed with schizophrenia at much higher rates than whites, and there was much discussion about how much clinician’s bias had to do with such labeling as opposed to patients having a true mental condition. That same attitude is likely present in discussions around autism with black parents being cautious of doctor’s wanting to quickly stamp their child with the disorder, even if the condition is present. As Teasley points out:
“African-Americans are well versed in going to a doctor who might have biases or discriminatory practices, so they may not readily accept what a doctor says.”


Living in urban communities doesn’t help either, as mental health facilities in such areas have steadily been on the decline for the past 30 years. What’s most important is education encouraging African American parents to seek proper resources if their child shows signs of the spectrum disorder—and to do so as early as possible in order to have the greatest impact on their child’s health because as Teasley points out, “later intervention will result in a poorer developmental outcome that can have a lasting impact on the child’s and family’s quality of life.”

What do you think is the biggest reason for delayed diagnoses among African American children?

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