Black children with autism who are hospitalized for psychiatric problems are more impaired than their white peers, according to a new study1. Socioeconomic factors may explain this difference, experts say.
Previous research has shown that autistic black children are more likely to be hospitalized for psychiatric crises than are their white peers2.
The new study found that black children in inpatient facilities have significantly lower verbal ability, daily living skills, written communication skills and nonverbal intelligence quotients (IQ), as well as more behavioral problems, than their white peers. But the association between race and behavioral issues, daily living skills and written communication skills disappears when the researchers account for how the children’s verbal ability, IQ and age influence these factors.
The findings suggest that a lifetime of socioeconomic differences contribute to black children’s outcomes in hospitals. Black children are significantly less likely than white children to receive an autism diagnosis, for example, or the autism services they need.
“I think this is just one piece of the puzzle regarding how people with autism from different racial backgrounds are treated,” says lead investigator Carla Mazefsky, associate professor of psychiatry and psychology at the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania. “What’s most interesting is that we really didn’t find race to be the factor that explained the differences in behavior or other characteristics.”
The study is the first to look at how racial disparities manifest among autistic children in hospitals. But the researchers did not look at differences in why the children were hospitalized.
“I wish they [had] also compared the reasons for hospitalization, which could give us more insight into differences between the groups,” says David Mandell, professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania.