Study Finds that with People with Autism from Historically Marginalized Racial and Ethnic Groups are More Likely to Have Co-Occurring Health Conditions
Research has shown that people diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) commonly have at least one additional medical or psychiatric condition. These co-occurring diagnoses may include gastrointestinal, speech, and sleep disorders; developmental disability; attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder; anxiety; schizophrenia, behavioral issues, epilepsy; pica; eczema; hypotonia; and others. According to a recent study, adults with autism who are from historically marginalized racial and ethnic groups are more likely to have co-occurring health conditions.
Historically, members of marginalized racial and ethnic groups have been underserved by U.S. health care systems and programs. Further, these populations are often disproportionately diagnosed with certain medical and mental health conditions. Not surprisingly, research has shown that these disparities also exist within the autism population.

The 2021 Comorbidity Study

Comorbidity is a medical term used to describe a circumstance when an individual has two or more diseases or disorders simultaneously. According to a recent study, adult Black, Hispanic/Latino, and Asian/Pacific Islanders with autism are more likely to have comorbidities than White individuals with ASD.

The study’s lead investigator Whitney Schott, a research scientist at Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and others analyzed data gathered for more than 155,000 autistic and 466,000 non-autistic adult Medicaid recipients. The purpose of the study was to identify the prevalence of a variety of psychiatric and physical conditions in the sample’s population of autistic individuals. The study also sought to examine differences in co-occurring conditions among the adult Medicaid population by race and ethnicity.

The Study’s Findings

Upon reviewing the data, Schott and the other research scientists noted marked differences between White and non-White individuals with autism that were related to co-occurring diagnoses for various conditions, including diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease.

The researchers found the prevalence of some medical conditions in autistic and non-autistic people to be relatively similar. However, the data revealed that autistic individuals had a greater chance of having various types of psychiatric conditions such as anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Additionally, those with autism who were Black and Hispanic/Latino were 20-40% more likely to have schizophrenia and other psychoses than white individuals with autism. However, Black individuals with autism were 25-50% less likely to have anxiety or OCD.

Asian/Pacific Islander individuals with autism were found to be more likely to have co-occurring health conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, and Down syndrome. In addition, Black and Hispanic/Latino people with autism were significantly more likely to be diagnosed with obesity, hypertension, or diabetes than white individuals.

Schott noted that the research revealed health disparities between the groups that are also found in the general population. She related that the differences are probably linked to several factors, including systematic discrimination, exposure to poorer air quality, disparate access to healthcare, and genetic distinctions. In a recent article, Schott related that “Providing needed supports and outreach can help narrow the health gap among these historically more vulnerable groups.”

Disparities in ASD Diagnostic Rates

In addition to having a higher rate of co-occurring medical and mental health conditions, other research suggests that there are also racial and ethnic disparities in the diagnostic rates for children with ASD. A study published in the American Journal of Public Health found significant differences between the timeliness of ASD diagnoses within non-White and White child populations.

ASD can be diagnosed in early childhood. As with any medical or psychiatric condition, the sooner a child is properly diagnosed, the sooner they can begin receiving appropriate interventions and treatment. However, research suggests that non-White children with ASD are more likely to be overlooked and underdiagnosed. According to one study, “children who were Black, Hispanic, or of other, non-White ethnicities were less likely than were White children to have documentation of an ASD in their records.” This disparity is believed to be related to numerous factors, including clinician bias, lack of health care, and barriers between parents and professionals.

If you or a loved one has a mental disability and has been arrested or convicted of a crime, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side. Elizabeth Kelley specializes in representing individuals with mental disabilities. To schedule a consultation, contact us or call (509) 991-7058.
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