While there is an increasing equality in terms of the likelihood that children from communities and families across the socioeconomic spectrum will be diagnosed with autism, a new study finds that such factors still influence the chance of an autism diagnosis, though to a much lesser extent than they did at the height of rising prevalence.
"As knowledge has spread about autism, information is now more evenly distributed across different kinds of communities," said Peter S. Bearman, the Cole Professor of the Social Sciences at Columbia University and the Director of the Paul F. Lazarsfeld Center for the Social Sciences, who coauthored the study, which appears in the April issue of the American Sociological Review. "It is also easier to find someone who can diagnose autism, so we no longer see these huge differences in rates of diagnosis. However, it appears that poor kids living in poor neighborhoods still are not being diagnosed."
The study examines birth and diagnostic records for all children born in California between 1992 and 2000 in conjunction with individual and community-level data such as parental wealth, parental education, and neighborhood property value. All children were followed from the time of birth until June 2006 to allow ample time for diagnosis. As the disorder became increasingly well-known, the average age of autism diagnosis fell from 5.9 among those children born in 1992 to 3.8 for those born in 2000.
"At the height of rising prevalence, which involved children born between 1992 and 1995, kids whose parents had fewer economic resources simply weren't diagnosed as often as wealthier children— wealthier kids were 20 to 40% more likely than poorer children to be diagnosed," said study coauthor Marissa D. King, an assistant professor of Organizational Behavior at Yale University's School of Management "Among children born in 2000, however, parental wealth alone had no effect on the likelihood that a child would be diagnosed."
Overall, of the 4,906,926 million children born in California between 1992 and 2000, 18,731 or .38% were diagnosed with autism. The prevalence of autism among the 1992 through 2000 California birth cohorts increased significantly, from 29 per 10,000 in 1992 to 49 per 10,000 in 2000.
"I think what has happened in California is that the ascertainment machinery—a combination of diffusion of information, awareness, conversations, and the capacity of physicians, teachers, nursery school providers, nurses, and so on—has become more established," Bearman said. "And, as more and more people are diagnosed with autism and the disorder becomes more central to thinking about child development in everyday discourse, the information about who might have autism is more evenly distributed across the whole state no matter where people live. So, the differences across communities and by social class are less than they used to be."
But, Bearman said, it is still the case that children from low-income families who live in poor neighborhoods are less likely to be diagnosed with autism. "We know that parents talking to each other about navigating the service system and talking to each other about how to understand developmental dynamics are really strongly associated with increased autism diagnoses," Bearman said. "The guess is that in wealthier neighborhoods, there are more opportunities for parents to be talking to each other at parks, schools, and other focal points."
According to the study, on average among children born between 1992 and 2000, a child from a poor family that lived in a more affluent neighborhood was close to 250% more likely than a child from an equally disadvantaged family living in a poorer neighborhood to be diagnosed with autism.
The study also found that when autism cases were split by severity, a striking pattern was revealed—less severe cases were disproportionately found in wealthier and more educated neighborhoods. Among kids born in 1992, the odds of children with less-severe symptoms being diagnosed was 90% higher if they lived in a wealthy neighborhood. By the end of the study, that percentage had decreased by half, to 45%.
"Less severe cases, the kids who are the highest functioning, can often slip underneath the diagnostic radar in less affluent communities where the diagnostic resources are not as established," Bearman said. "If you're less severe, you might not be diagnosed because you don't seem to have a profound disability—so you're just thought to be a weird kid."
As for policy implications of the study, Bearman said it is very simple. "I think you would like to reduce health disparities," he said. "So, in order to reduce the health disparity—or really the service disparity—we would need to allocate more resources to increase ascertainment to get children into treatment."
While the study focuses on children from California, the authors expect somewhat more amplified socioeconomic effects on autism diagnoses in other parts of the United States. "Since California has a state-wide program dedicated to serving kids with developmental disorders, it is likely that the inequalities in autism diagnoses are greater in other states," King said.
About the American Sociological Association and the American Sociological Review
The American Sociological Association (www.asanet.org), founded in 1905, is a non-profit membership association dedicated to serving sociologists in their work, advancing sociology as a science and profession, and promoting the contributions to and use of sociology by society. The American Sociological Review is the ASA's flagship journal.
The research article described above is available by request for members of the media. For a copy of the full study, contact Daniel Fowler, ASA's Media Relations and Public Affairs Officer, at (202) 527-7885 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Daniel Fowler | EurekAlert!
Smart Data Transformation – Surfing the Big Wave
02.12.2016 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Angewandte Informationstechnik FIT
Climate change could outpace EPA Lake Champlain protections
18.11.2016 | University of Vermont
A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.
Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...
In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.
“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...
The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.
The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...
Broadband rotational spectroscopy unravels structural reshaping of isolated molecules in the gas phase to accommodate water
In two recent publications in the Journal of Chemical Physics and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, researchers around Melanie Schnell from the Max...
The efficiency of power electronic systems is not solely dependent on electrical efficiency but also on weight, for example, in mobile systems. When the weight of relevant components and devices in airplanes, for instance, is reduced, fuel savings can be achieved and correspondingly greenhouse gas emissions decreased. New materials and components based on gallium nitride (GaN) can help to reduce weight and increase the efficiency. With these new materials, power electronic switches can be operated at higher switching frequency, resulting in higher power density and lower material costs.
Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE together with partners have investigated how these materials can be used to make power...
16.11.2016 | Event News
01.11.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
02.12.2016 | Medical Engineering
02.12.2016 | Agricultural and Forestry Science
02.12.2016 | Physics and Astronomy