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For most of the 20th century, black people were invisible to the medical establishment — not just because they were autistic, but because they were autistic and black. Not one of the 11 children that Kanner described in his landmark 1943 paper — the one that put autism on the map of American psychiatry — was black, even though many of the patients seen at Johns Hopkins were low-income people of color.
Nine of Kanner’s original patients came from Anglo-Saxon stock and two were Jewish. Noting the preponderance of academics and professionals — including professors, lawyers, chemists, and psychiatrists — among his patients’ parents and relatives, Kanner became convinced that these children’s condition was related, in some way, to their will to achieve and their elevated socio-economic status.
Dorothy Groomer, the mother of a young African-American man named Steven, explained to the makers of the 2002 documentary Refrigerator Mothers that “a whole team of doctors” from the University of Illinois refused to diagnose her son with autism, though he displayed all of the classic signs. “They said, ‘No — it may be an emotional disturbance, but it was not autism.’ We did not fit the classic mold for autism, which is white, upper middle class, and very, very bright.”
Read full, original post: The Invisibility of Black Autism