Study shows minority students underrepresented in autism diagnoses, rates vary widely by state

KU News Headlines

LAWRENCE — In education circles, it is widely accepted that minorities are overrepresented in special education. New research from the University of Kansas has found, in terms of autism, minorities are widely underrepresented in special education. The underrepresentation varies widely from state to state and shows that students from all backgrounds are not being identified accurately, resulting in many students, especially those from minority backgrounds, not receiving services that are crucial to their education.

Jason Travers, associate professor of special education at KU, led a study that analyzed autism identification rates for every state. Travers then compared the percentage of minority students with autism to the percentage of white students with autism in each state and compared rates for each group to the rate for white students with autism in California. The analyses looked at data from 2014, which was three years after federal regulations changed from five racial categories to seven. It was also the most current year for data analyzed by the Centers for Disease Control on the prevalence of autism. Travers’ research had previously shown underrepresentation of minorities in autism, but the change warranted a renewed look.

“A considerable change in demographic reporting happened at the federal all the way down to the local level,” Travers said. “So individual schools had to change their reports and send them to the state, who then sent them to the federal government. So, for several years we’ve had an incomplete picture of autism identification rates.”

The change allowed schools to report students, including those with autism, as belonging to “two or more races” for the first time, and also established two separate categories for Pacific Islander and Asian students who previously were reported as one group. The report, co-authored with Michael Krezmien of the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, was published in the journal Exceptional Children.

The data showed dramatic underrepresentation of minority …

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