A Systematic Literature Review of Racial Disproportionality in Autism in the U.S.



Autism is a developmental disorder that affects how people communicate and interact with others. Autism can be diagnosed by professionals who use certain criteria to identify the signs and symptoms of the disorder. However, not everyone who has autism is diagnosed equally. Some racial and ethnic groups may be more or less likely to be diagnosed with autism than others. This is called racial disproportionality.


Racial disproportionality in autism can have serious consequences for the people who are affected by it. For example, being diagnosed with autism can help people access special education and other services that can support their development and well-being. On the other hand, being misdiagnosed or overdiagnosed with autism can lead to stigma, segregation, and reduced opportunities. Therefore, it is important to understand how racial disproportionality in autism occurs and what factors influence it.


A recent study by Kim, Karakaya, Skinner, and Baker examined the historical shift of racial disproportionality in autism in the U.S. They reviewed 24 previous studies that looked at how the rates of autism diagnosis varied by race and ethnicity over time. They also analyzed the possible causes and implications of these variations. Here are some of the main findings and implications of their study:


Main findings


  • The rates of autism diagnosis have increased for all racial and ethnic groups over time, but not at the same pace or extent.
  • Black and Asian groups have had mixed results over time. In some periods, they were more likely to be diagnosed with autism than white people. In other periods, they were less likely or equally likely to be diagnosed with autism as white people. By 2007, the Asian group was overrepresented again.
  • Hispanic and Native American groups have consistently been underrepresented in autism diagnosis. They were less likely to be diagnosed with autism than white people in all periods.
  • There were significant variations in the rates of autism diagnosis by race and ethnicity across different states and regions. These variations suggested that the diagnosis system was not consistent or fair for all groups.
  • The patterns of racial disproportionality in autism were influenced by many factors. These included the definitions and criteria used to diagnose autism, the availability and distribution of resources and services, the cultural differences and preferences of families and professionals, and the biases and stereotypes that affected the identification and referral process.




  • The study showed that racial disproportionality in autism is a complex and dynamic phenomenon that changes over time and space. It also revealed that the current diagnosis system is not reliable or valid for all groups. This means that some people who have autism may not be recognized or supported, while others who do not have autism may be mislabeled or over-serviced.
  • The study highlighted the need for more research and action to address the racial disparities in autism diagnosis. Some of the possible steps include: improving the accuracy and consistency of the diagnosis criteria and tools, increasing the awareness and training of professionals and families, enhancing the cultural competence and diversity of the workforce, ensuring the equitable access and quality of services and supports, and reducing the stigma and discrimination associated with autism and race/ethnicity.
  • The study also emphasized the importance of considering the perspectives and experiences of the people who are affected by racial disproportionality in autism. This includes listening to and involving the people who have autism and their families, as well as the professionals and communities who work with them. By doing so, we can better understand the challenges and opportunities they face, and develop more effective and respectful solutions.




Racial disproportionality in autism is a serious issue that affects the lives and outcomes of many people in the U.S. This study provided a comprehensive and updated overview of how this issue has evolved over time and what factors have contributed to it. The study also suggested some ways to improve the diagnosis system and reduce the racial disparities in autism. By learning from this study and taking action, we can make a positive difference for the people who have autism and their families, regardless of their race or ethnicity.




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