Poorer kids from lower-income neighborhoods are 20-40% less likely to be diagnosed with autism than children from wealthier families, according to a new study by Yale and Columbia University researchers. This incongruity in diagnosis rates continues despite ongoing advances in early-detection methods and increased public awarenes of autism spectrum disorders.
“The researchers found that between 1992 and 2000, a child in a poor family who lived in a more affluent neighborhood was about 250 percent more likely to be diagnosed with autism than a child from an equally poor family who lived in a poorer neighborhood.
When the researchers analyzed autism cases by severity, they found that children with less severe autism who were born in 1992 and lived in wealthier and more educated neighborhoods were 90 percent more likely to be diagnosed with the condition.”
One suspected cause of the diagnostic disparity is lack of access to information by low-income parents and caregivers who are less mobile and have limited early-childhood resources where they live. According to study co-author, Dr. Peter Bearman,
“We know that parents talking to each other about navigating the service system and talking to each other about how to understand developmental dynamics are really strongly associated with increased autism diagnoses…the guess is that in wealthier neighborhoods, there are more opportunities for parents to be talking to each other at parks, schools, and other focal points.”
Advocacy organizations such as NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) and Autism Speaks have been at the forefront of those working for large-scale public education on the early warning signs of autism spectrum disorders, as well as the evolving medical and therapeutic resources available to families of children with ASDs. Nevertheless, poorer children are still not benefiting from the breakthroughs being made, largely also due to lack of quality and affordable healthcare.
AS Dr. Bearman writes, “I think you would like to reduce health disparities…so, in order to reduce the health disparity — or really the service disparity — we would need to allocate more resources to increase ascertainment to get children into treatment.”
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