The number of children diagnosed with autism has increased in recent years, but a new study co-authored by a University of Kansas professor shows that while the number of students with autism increased in every state from 2000 to 2007, black and Hispanic children were significantly underrepresented.
Jason Travers, assistant professor of special education, co-authored a study that analyzed administrative identification of autism in every state under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act for the years 2000 and 2007. The disparity in the odds of white students identified compared with minorities might reflect a similar phenomenon associated with the widespread increase in students diagnosed with learning disabilities in the late '70s and attention deficit hyper disorder in the '90s, the authors argue, and also shows that minority students probably are not getting the same services as their peers.
Travers has studied autism and diagnosis rates previously and noticed discrepancies in the number of students diagnosed. The Centers for Disease Control have estimated that one in 68 children have autism. “
That’s a pretty alarming number,” Travers said of the CDC figure. “I wanted to see if there were differences in these rates. Previous research had found that African-Americans were over-identified. But the data I was looking at showed they were under-identified. This was during an era when autism prevalence rates were increasing across the board.”
Travers and colleagues Michael Krezmien of the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Candace Mulcahy of Binghamton University and Matthew Tincani of Temple University examined autism identification rates from schools in all 50 states in 2000 and 2007 for the study, published in the Journal of Special Education. The study was started while Travers was a faculty member at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.
Administrative identification reflects rates at which schools — not necessarily a clinician — identify a child as having autism. Widely varying criteria from state to state are part of the problem, the authors state, but not the full story. White students identified as autistic increased from 2000 to 2007 in all states and the District of Columbia. The number of African-Americans identified increased in all states except Alaska and Montana, and the number of Hispanics increased in all states except Kentucky, Louisiana and the District of Columbia. While counts in all categories showed an increase, black and Hispanic increased at much smaller rates, and all three increased at lower numbers than predicted by the CDC.