‘One piece of the puzzle’: Exploring differences in medical care for black and white children with autism

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Black children with autism who are hospitalized for psychiatric problems are more impaired than their white peers, according to a new study. Socioeconomic factors may explain this difference, experts say.

Previous research has shown that autistic black children are more likely to be hospitalized for psychiatric crises than are their white peers.

The new study found that black children in inpatient facilities have significantly lower verbal ability, daily living skills, written communication skills and nonverbal intelligence quotients (IQ), as well as more behavioral problems, than their white peers. But the association between race and behavioral issues, daily living skills and written communication skills disappears when the researchers account for how the children’s verbal ability, IQ and age influence these factors.

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The findings suggest that a lifetime of socioeconomic differences contribute to black children’s outcomes in hospitals. Black children are significantly less likely than white children to receive an autism diagnosis, for example, or the autism services they need.

“I think this is just one piece of the puzzle regarding how people with autism from different racial backgrounds are treated,” says lead investigator Carla Mazefsky, associate professor of psychiatry and psychology at the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania.

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