MN, M.D.: How Does Autism Affect The Black Community?

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Since April is World Autism Awareness month, I wanted to talk about autism and how it affects the black community.  More children than ever before are being diagnosed with autism and the Center for Disease control (CDC) estimates that 1 in 88 children have been identified with having autism or a related disorder.  This is a significant increase from previous years.

What is autism anyway?

Autism is a gene disorder in which a child’s behavior, communication, and social skills do not develop in the typical way.  Usually the first signs are seen when these children are babies. They may avoid eye contact, resist cuddling, or fail to spread their arms out in hopes of being picked up.  As the child grows older, parents may notice he has trouble understanding other people’s feelings or talking about their own, has delayed speech and language skills, fails to develop friendships, or creates daily rituals (eg, needing to always eat foods in a specific order).  Autism is more common in boys than in girls and is a disorder that stays with the person for the rest of their lives.

So, how does it affect the African American community?

Here are the facts according to recent studies:

  • In a study that compared children in different communities, they found that the largest increases in the disorder were among Hispanic (110%) and black children (91%).
  • White children received diagnoses of autism at 6.3 years of age, compared with 7.9 years for black children.
  • Black children required more time in treatment before receiving the diagnosis.
  • Black children showed greater delays in language compared to white children.

Early awareness may be the reason why there is a higher increase in diagnosis; however, it is not entirely known why the disorder is higher in the Hispanic and black communities compared to the white community.

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