In 2021, the CDC reported that approximately 1 in 44 children in the US are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Research indicates that autism is largely determined by genetics and the age of their parents at the time of their birth (older parents are more likely to have children with autism).
However, there are disparities in autism diagnosis. According to a 2017 study published in the “American Journal of Public Health,” disparities in both diagnoses in autism and access to quality care continue for racial minorities. Hispanic children are 65% less likely and black children are 19% less likely than white children to be diagnosed with autism.
Autism prevalence is roughly equal among high, middle, and low-socioeconomic groups. Since 2002, autism prevalence roughly doubled in the three racial/ethnic groups, indicating that autism awareness and access to services are increasing for all the groups, but that prevalence in minority groups is still considerably lower than in white children.
This is also tied to the lack of early intervention in minority children due to lack of access to quality care. NPR reported that a 2007 University of Pennsylvania study found that African-American children on the autism spectrum are 5.1 times more likely to be misdiagnosed with behavior disorders before they are correctly diagnosed with autism. Oftentimes, they are just diagnosed with “bad behavior” –especially in boys. Early interventions can significantly improve outcomes for children and their families. However, because they are diagnosed later, minority children may require longer and more intensive intervention.
A gender gap in diagnosis also exists between boys and girls. Autism is cited as being four times more common in boys than girls. This is likely simply due to differences between the sexes. But, there aren’t many studies regarding autism in females. Another reason some studies stick with boys is that because there are fewer girls and women with autism diagnoses, recruiting them for research can be expensive. However, experts suggest that scientists make an effort anyway to include females in autism studies.