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Racial Differences Found in Use of Specialty Services By Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders

6/17/2013 For Release:  June 17, 2013

A study of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder found racial differences in which children accessed specialist doctors, including gastroenterologists, neurologists and psychiatrists, and in the types of specialty tests they received. The study, “Racial and Ethnic Differences inSubspecialty Service Use by Children With Autism,” published in the July 2013 issue of Pediatrics (published online June 17), compared use of subspecialty providers and procedures for more than 3,600 patients with autism who were seen at Massachusetts General Hospital. Of the 3,615 children with autism spectrum disorder, 1,557 had subspecialty care visits. Among African-American children, 29.8 percent had subspecialty care visits, whereas 36.9 percent of white children had such visits. The most striking differences were in use of gastroenterology and nutrition services; 13.8 percent of white children accessed gastroenterology services, compared to 9 percent of African-American children and 9.9 percent of Hispanic children. African-American and Hispanic children also received fewer gastroenterology tests including endoscopy and colonoscopy. Hispanic children had lower use of neurologic studies, sleep studies and neuropsychiatric tests. The authors conclude there may be several possible explanations, including differences in children’s medical conditions, differences in how often doctors refer their patients to specialists, and differences in how often patients follow-through on those appointments. According to the study authors, developing clearer practice guidelines based on evidence of the benefit of specific evaluations and procedures may help. 

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The American Academy of Pediatrics is an organization of 60,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists and pediatric surgical specialists dedicated to the health, safety and well-being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults. For more information, visit www.aap.org.