Many posts have dealt with race and ethnicity. Others have discussed co-occurring or comorbid health conditions. Sarabeth Broder-Fingert and colleagues have an article in Pediatrics titled "Racial and Ethnic Differences in Subspecialty Service Use by Children With Autism." From the abstract:
We identified 3615 patients (2935 white, 243 Hispanic, 188 African American, and 249 other). The most striking differences were in use of gastroenterology (GI)/nutrition services. Nonwhite children were less likely to use GI/nutrition specialty providers (African American, odds ratio = 0.32 [95th percentile confidence interval: 0.18–0.55]; Hispanic, 0.32 [0.20–0.51]; other, 0.56 [0.34–0.92]) as well as neurology (African American, 0.52 [0.33–0.83]; Hispanic, 0.40 [0.27–0.59]) and psychiatry/psychology (African American, 0.44 [0.27–0.72]; Hispanic, 0.60 [0.41–0.88]; other, 0.62 [0.38–0.99]). Nonwhite children were less likely to have had GI studies: colonoscopy (African American, 0.23 [0.10–0.53]; Hispanic, 0.26 [0.14–0.50]), endoscopy (African American, 0.31 [0.16–0.58]; Hispanic, 0.27 [0.16–0.46]; other, 0.53 [0.31–0.90]), and stool studies (African American, 0.49 [0.30–0.91]). Hispanic children had lower rates of neurologic and other testing: EEG (Hispanic, 0.53 [0.35–0.78]), brain MRI (African American, 0.37 [0.22–0.63]; Hispanic, 0.62 [0.42–0.90]), sleep study (Hispanic, 0.18 [0.04–0.76]), and neuropsychiatric testing (Hispanic, 0.55 [0.32–0.96]).Dr. Arshya Vahabzadeh comments at CNN:
CONCLUSIONS: We found racial and ethnic differences among children diagnosed with autism in use of care and procedures. Possible explanations for these findings include differences in presentation, referral rates, or referral follow through.
The exact reasons behind these findings remain unclear. One explanation may be that minority families face greater barriers in accessing specialist services. Lower numbers of local specialists, transportation issues, and lack of a regular health care provider have all been identified as problems for minority children.
Additionally. minority families may have beliefs that lead to the use of non-traditional services, or attribution of a child’s symptoms to non-medical causes. Even when obtaining referral to a specialist, children from minority families can face challenges in maintaining regular follow-up.
Another issue that remains to be clarified is whether the symptoms of autism are the same across racial and ethnic groups. Some evidence suggests that there may well be differences. For instance, one study has shown that children from minority groups may have more co-occurring symptoms of aggression. If aggression becomes the dominant issue during consultations, then other medical issues may be missed, and opportunities for specialist referral lost.
One final possibility is that children from white families are being referred too frequently to specialists, with subsequent unnecessary medical investigation. This could certainly be a problem given the lack of standardized guidance on how to treat and assess medically complex symptoms in children with autism.
This study adds to the body of research showing race and ethnicity as being important factors in the diagnosis and treatment of autism. Studies conducted during the last decade have consistently noted that children from minority groups face substantial delays in obtaining an autism diagnosis.
African-American children in particular are more likely to be initially misdiagnosed, and face an average delay in autism diagnosis of 18 months compared to their white peers. Some have suggested that while white children may be diagnosed with autism when they have mild to moderate symptoms, African-American children tend to be diagnosed when they have severe symptoms, with milder cases going undetected.