Autism is more common in Hispanic and Black children in the US

NEW YORK (AP) — For the first time, autism is being diagnosed more frequently in Black and Hispanic children than in white kids in the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday.

The CDC estimates that 1 in 36 U.S. eight-year-olds had autism by 2020. This is an increase of 1 in 44 from two years ago.

The rate of autism was higher for children of color than it was for white children. New estimates show that approximately 3% of Black, Hispanic, Asian and Pacific Islander children have autism diagnoses, as opposed to 2% of white children.

That’s a contrast to the past, when autism was most commonly diagnosed in white kids — usually in middle- or upper-income families with the means to go to autism specialists. In 2010, it was found that white children were 30% more likely to have autism than Black children, and 50% more than Hispanic kids.

Experts attribute the improvement to better screening and autism services for all children, as well as increased advocacy and awareness for Black and Hispanic families.

The increase is from “this rush to catch up,” said David Mandell, a University of Pennsylvania psychiatry professor.

It’s still not clear if Hispanic and Black children with autism are receiving the same level of support as their white counterparts. A study The January 2017 study found that Hispanic and Black children had less access to services for autism than their white counterparts during the 2017-2018 academic school year.

Autism is a form of developmental disability that results from brain differences. Many symptoms can overlap with other diagnoses. They may include learning and language delays, emotional withdrawal and a need for routine. Scientists believe that genetics may play a role, but it is not known why this would be more common in certain racial and ethnic groups.

The diagnosis was used for decades to describe children who had difficulty communicating or socializing with others and kids with unusual, repetitive behavior. But around 30 years ago, the term became shorthand for a group of milder, related conditions known as ″autism spectrum disorders.”

There are no biological or blood tests to diagnose it. It’s diagnosed by making judgments about a child’s behavior.

Because most autism cases are diagnosed around this age, the CDC reviews health and school records in 11 US states. While other researchers may have their own estimates of autism, experts agree that the CDC’s is the most reliable and is the gold standard.

Autism has been increasing over the past decades, and is still more prevalent in boys than it is among girls. The latest study found that autism was diagnosed in more than 1% (8-year-old) of girls.

A second CDC report was released Thursday, and it looked at autism prevalence in children as young as four years old. Kelly Shaw, who manages the CDC Autism Tracking Project, said that this research is vital because autism diagnoses are occurring at younger ages.

Rose Donohue from Washington University, a psychiatrist, stated that historically, autism has been diagnosed later in black children than it is in whites. The study of 4-year olds also found that autism was much less common in white children than it was in black, Hispanic, Asian and Pacific Islander families in 2020.

However, the 4-year-olds were less likely than children in the past to have been tested for autism. Shaw stated that the reason for this was likely because of interruptions in child-care and medical services during the COVID-19 pandemic.


The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science and Educational Media Group. All content is owned by the Associated Press.

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