Viewpoint: Blacks raise questions about racial stereotyping of autism diagnoses and therapies

| | June 29, 2020
mixed race family with autist daughter with horses x header x
Credit: Healthline
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Part of the reason people are quick to stereotype me is that there is no research on middle-aged black women with autism.

In the workplace, I am often criticized for the way I carry myself. I am told that my calm, relaxed energy comes off as superior and naive, and that my assertiveness looks like aggression.

There is a debate in autism research about whether race should be considered in evaluating how well therapies work. In 2016, Jason Travers and his colleagues analyzed 408 peer-reviewed, published studies of evidence-based autism treatments. Only 73 of them, or 17.9 percent, reported the race, ethnicity or nationality of participants. Of the nearly 2,500 participants in the 73 studies, fewer than one in five reported their race — and 63.5 percent of those were white.

Related article:  Exploring the maleness of autism and how it shapes the empathy of autistic people

Race is seldom reported in autism studies because the condition is often overlooked in minority children and adults. The statistics on autism maintained by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provide no information on race or ethnicity for autistic adults, although there has been an increase in diagnoses among minority children.

To dispel harmful stereotypes, researchers must include and track autistic black people. For adult black women with autism to get programs and services that address our needs, researchers first need to acknowledge that we exist.

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