In The Politics of Autism, I write about special education and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
According to national data, the type or category of disability a student is identified with may be another contributing factor to the disparate discipline rates of students of color with disabilities. For instance, studies have shown that black students with emotional disturbance have received less and lower quality care than their white peers. For the 2009–2010 school year and across all grade levels, Losen, et al. found that as the percentage of black students identified as having emotional disturbance increased, so did their suspension rates. Further, they found that for black students—regardless of disability status—in elementary school, a 1-point increase in black students’ being identified as having an emotional disturbance predicted a 2.3 percent increase in the suspension rate for all black students at the elementary school level. It is important to note that a similar association was found in the suspension rates for white students that year. Moreover, this association (for both black and white students) was also found when comparing specific learning disability (SLD) with suspension rates. These findings suggest that on a school-wide level, there may be potential bias against students with disabilities that is driving these disparities. However, unlike with emotional disturbance and SLD, researchers found a negative association with autism identification and suspension rates, as there was a decrease in the association between the risk for suspension and autism for both black and white students. This is significant because black students (regardless of gender) are more likely to be over-identified in the two disability categories that are related to a higher risk of suspension, and more likely to be under-identified for autism—the category that consistently predicts lower risks for suspension. Thus, it may be this combination of over- and under-identification that partially explains why black students with disabilities have higher suspension rates than their white student counterparts.