Autism Diagnosis Often Delayed For African-American Children

African-American children are diagnosed much later with autism than white children, according to a new study published in the journal Social Work and Public Health. Currently, 1 in 110 children in the US is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, which occurs across all demographic groups. But African-American children are likely to be diagnosed at least 1.5 years later than white children. Martell Teasley, an associate professor in the College of Social Work at Florida State University in Tallahassee, says that a lack of access to quality, affordable and culturally knowledgeable health care are among the reasons for the delay.

But Teasley also says that the “social stigma attached to mental health issues within the black community” may also play a role. Such leads to “less discussion about autism among African Americans or between African Americans and health care providers”; even a child receives an autism diagnosis, families may be reluctant to seek treatment and services. African-American families may indeed “resist” a diagnosis, Teasley notes, because of past experiences of discrimination with medical professionals:

“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.”

Another potential problem is misdiagnosis. Scientists are seeking a biomarker for autism, but the neurodevelopental disorder is currently diagnosed based on the observations of a team of medical and psychological professionals according to criteria in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM) (and the criteria for autism spectrum disorders are currently under review and a controversial revision has been proposed).

Furthermore, Teasley points out that the majority of African-Americans live in urban areas, where the number of mental health services has declined since the 1980s.

Later diagnosis leads to addressing a child’s educational and other needs when he or she is older. Teasley points out that “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.”

Artist Leironica Hawkins and the “Invisible Disability” of Asperger’s

Leironica Hawkins was not diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome until she was 28 years old. She grew up in Crown Heights in Brooklyn and had “tics” such as self-rocking and involuntary hand twitches. She has never received treatment for Asperger’s and has had a number of “short-lived jobs and psychiatric difficulties.”

A New York Times article says that, after being placed in a hospital, she has been living a Lower East Side shelter for people with disabilities but “the yelling, the perfumes and air fresheners, the byzantine regulations” make her anxious and could bring on panic attacks, so she spends the days wandering Manhattan’s maze of streets and in museums and the New York Public Library. A talented artist, she has created a 22-page comic book, “Asperger’s Syndrome: An Invisible Disability“:

The comedic story line acts as something of a primer on the condition, with three teenage characters with Asperger’s, including the autobiographical Andrea, a klutz who has problems multi-tasking and following the boss’s directions. She cannot hold a job and at one point throws a furious tantrum and punches holes in a door, and then loses her job and her apartment.

Had Hawkins’ Aspergers’ been diagnosed earlier, what might her life had been like? How might her talents have been cultivated?

Related Care2 Coverage

Race and the Diagnosis of Disability in Students

Who’s the Real Phony? Santorum on Abortion and Disability

Could Autism Be Diagnosed At 6 Months?


Photo by Richard Masoner via Wikimedia Commons

Love This? Never Miss Another Story.


Linda Clarkson Pressman

Please sign this petition about the dsm changes for autism

Laine V.
Laine V.3 years ago

One they when I went to my dermatologist (not in USA), but she didn`t gave all attention I needed. Why? Because she had 2 medical students to watch her work..

Doctors are humans too and their feelings impact healthcare patients get. If he as man hates afro-americans..

Heather M.
Heather Marv3 years ago

Australia is looking at providing disibility insurance which will be paid for through a type of medicare system, workers pay extra to cover these costs, a percentage of their wage. So many children with disibilities miss out on the help they need, because of lack of money and so something has to be done to help these children and to make sure that they reach their potential.

Heather M.
Heather Marv3 years ago

Generally a child needs to be diagnosed the sooner the better so that they can receive as much help as possible. As soon as parents/grandparents suspect something may be wrong is a good time to get some wise professional help.

Jane Barton
Jane Barton3 years ago

Why is that?

paul m.
paul m.3 years ago

Only if you have Money,,,,Dosen't Matter What Colour you are You will get attention
No Money....SeeYa ,,Bye ,,and have a good day,,

Robert O.
Robert O.3 years ago

Sadly minorities, particularly Hispanics and African Americans do not have acccess to health care or goof health care and often times are not given the same care and concern as patients from other racial groupswhich is not right at all. Racism and discrimination have no place anywhere and should not be tolerated.

thomas m., correlating growing minority populations with the U.S. becoming a third world country is ignorant, hateful and blatently racist. How does being a Caucasian majority country equate into being a better or stronger country? What do you mean stand up for themselves? In what way have they not stood up for themselves? It's not like they're being victimized or persecuted. Sadly many Caucasians are correlating their racism, bigotry and nationalism with flag waving patriotism and showing hatred and scorn for all those that are not American or not American enough in their eyes. If anybody needs to stand up it's people from minority groups and those that face continual, systematic discrimination which also includes women, the disabled and the GLBT community.

Tim Cheung
Tim C.3 years ago


John Mansky
John Mansky3 years ago

Well this is America. Soon whites,will be a minority...

Zee K.
Past Member 3 years ago

This time, don't give them bus tickets and send them to Arizona.