In May, UC Davis researchers reported that the Centers distributed some $2,000 more during the study period to each white child with an autism spectrum diagnosis than to their African-American and Latino counterparts. The disparities were even sharper for autistic adults: whites averaged a little more than $31,000. African-Americans got about $4,000 less. Latinos averaged just over $18,000 per person annually.
“I’ve been looking for empirical numbers, trying to find out whether we’ve done better, worse, or whether we are in the same place,” said Areva Martin, president of Los Angeles-based Special Needs Network, an autism advocacy organization.
“We’ve had a ton of legislation. We’ve improved parent participation and better transparency from the state and the regional centers. But if you believe this study’s numbers, in terms of actual dollars spent, we haven’t moved the needle.”
Martin traces reform efforts to a 2012 state senate select committee hearing in response to a series of Los Angeles Times articles that documented widespread disparities, tied to race and ethnicity, in how the regional centers allocated their resources. Legislators tightened the centers’ public information requirements, mandating that they post annual reports showing how they had distributed their money.
But the most recent reports show widespread disparities persist, not only for autistic regional center clients, but in the entire scope of center services.
“This is not about autism. It’s about all disabilities. It’s a racial, ethnic equity issue,” said Barbara Wheeler, associate director of the University of Southern California’s Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities Education, Research and Service.