Study Shows Higher Autism Rates for Black Children Living in England

June 21, 2021

Pupils Facing Social Disadvantage Also More Likely on Spectrum

The standardized prevalence of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) for children, adolescents, and young adults (ages 5 – 19) in England is 1.76%. Yet, that prevalence rate jumps to 2.11% for Black pupils, according to an original investigation report published in JAMA Pediatrics. For this ASD prevalence study, British researchers accessed data from the Spring 2017 National Pupil Database (NPD), an administrative data source. Through use of the NPD, the research team estimated the ASD prevalence for schools in England.  Their goal was to investigate the association between ASD and sociodemographic as well as socioeconomic factors. To do this, the study’s authors stratified the ASD prevalence estimates by sex, race/ethnicity, Special Education Needs and Disability (SEND) status, and Local Authority Districts. In order to gain insight on socioeconomic factors, students who utilized the Free School Meals (FSM) program were counted and calculated. Overall, 25.8% of all English pupils had claimed eligibility at some point for the FSM program. However, that percentage rose to 35.23% of pupils with ASD, to 37.93% with ASD with an additional learning difficulty, and to 44.61% of pupils with other types of SEND. Further troubling statistics from this report showed that Chinese students were 38% more likely to be diagnosed with ASD than White students. Black students were 26% more likely to receive an autism diagnosis compared to White students. While examining social disadvantage, another unfortunate finding was discovered, pupils who face social disadvantage were more likely to have ASD. When exploring this finding further, the researchers discovered that racial/ethnic differences were mediated through socioeconomic disadvantage. This was especially true for Black pupils. They had a 12.41% increased prevalence of ASD, which the authors attributed to social disadvantage. The report suggests that the interaction between ASD and social disadvantage could be linked two ways. First, children from socially disadvantaged backgrounds may be at higher risk of developing ASD. And/or second, having a child with ASD may increase the risk of a family experiencing poverty. This report’s findings are very similar to those of a study from last year which investigated the socioeconomic and racial divide in American autism prevalence and discovered that the rate of autism is rising among the socioeconomically disadvantaged and declining for wealthy caucasians. This British report concludes with a call for better understanding of why this racial and socioeconomic phenomenon is occurring and for better support for students with ASD from disadvantaged backgrounds. A new study published earlier this month, shows that Black caregivers in the United States are encountering systemic racism at almost every step of the healthcare system when trying to access autism services for their children. Sadly, systemic racism in autism appears to be an international problem.

Original Study

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