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Study: Minority students not accurately diagnosed with autism

Minority students with autism are widely underrepresented in U.S. special education classes, according to a new study from the University of Kansas. The study, which analyzed data from 2014, shows that students with autism are not being accurately diagnosed, resulting in many not receiving crucial educational services.

For many years, researchers have suspected that black and Hispanic children have been diagnosed at a lower rate of autism compared with white children. A couple of reasons for this may be that minority families may not have access to the educational experts who can identify their child’s condition and work with them; and school officials aren’t identifying minority students with autism because of concerns about placing too many minority children in special education.

Regardless, school districts throughout the country must do a better job in working with autistic children. Autism is a neurological and behavioral disorder that often leads to children being unable to communicate with others or having difficulty socializing. Early diagnosis and intervention are critical for children with autism, which usually has an onset before the age of 3.

California: outstanding work with autistic children

Some look to California as the torchbearer for dealing with autistic students. California played a prominent role in the recent University of Kansas study because not only is it the largest state by population, more importantly our state is considered to have one of the country’s best infrastructures toward identifying and helping students with autism.

Here’s how the study worked:

  • First, it compared the percentage of minority students with autism with the percentage of white students with autism in every state.
  • In the next step, it compared the rates for each group to the rate of white students with autism in California. When completing this last step, researchers determined that nearly every state under-identified minority students with autism.

But it wasn’t just minorities being under-diagnosed. According to the study, 46 states and the District of Columbia had a lower percentage of white students identified as autistic compared with California.

Perhaps more of our nation’s school districts should turn to California for some guidance when it comes to identifying and working with children who have autism. The real necessity, though, is collaboration between schools, parents and communities. This can only help children with autism gain a better chance toward being independent adults.

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