Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a rise in the number autism spectrum disorder diagnoses in children. And this year, for the first time, Black and brown children had higher rates of the disorders than white children.
Children of color have historically been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder later in life, leading to delays in development. Experts say this rise in ASD diagnoses for children of color shows increased awareness, screening, education and acceptance of autism.
Joy James, a developmental specialist at The Dimock Center in Roxbury, said she has seen firsthand the increase in autism diagnoses for children of color.
"We're having hands-on experiences with families who are getting these diagnoses, and as an early intervention specialist, it's kind of us helping educate families about what the signs of autism are, and then directing them to the appropriate assessments," James said on Basic Black.
She noted that getting a diagnosis can open many doors for children and families, helping them to get access to resources like early intervention programs.
Cynthia Laine, founder of the Black Autism Coalition and a mother of two children with ASD, knows the value of getting a diagnosis and accessing resources as soon as possible — as she did with her own kids.
She said many parents of children with autism need help, too. Parents can be left to find their own way instead of being directed to family support groups or other services.
"I know it's about the child, but everybody forgets about the parents. We don't get that support," Laine said, adding that she helps empower many parents in the Black Autism Coalition.
Some signs of ASD include difficulty with communication and social cues, repetitive behaviors and obsessive interests.
Jay Wilson, a doctoral student in clinical psychology at Boston University Center for Autism Research Excellence, said obsessive interests can be a benefit to people with autism.
"A lot of people with autism have specific interests in art and in mathematics, and they go really far with those interests. Those are the same kind of skills you need to do a PhD," Wilson said.
Recognizing the strengths in children with autism also helps fight stigma that exists around the disorder.
Moving forward, Dr. Karen Spencer, assistant in the department of neurology at Boston Children’s Hospital, said more research is needed on the disparities in autism diagnosis and treatment, and providers need to be giving equitable care to all.
Overall, she said the increase in diagnoses is a positive thing. "This reflects likely an increased awareness about autism in general, and increased access to clinicians who diagnose children with autism."
Watch the latest episode of Basic Black Fridays at 7:30 p.m. on GBH 2 or live at the stream on GBH.org. You can also watch on the GBH News YouTube channel. Subscribe to get notifications for future premiere episodes.