Whether children are born to wealthy or poor families traditionally impacted their odds of being diagnosed with autism, but new research indicates the gap is beginning to narrow.
Though children from less affluent neighborhoods continue to be underdiagnosed, the disparity between kids from various socioeconomic backgrounds is becoming less pronounced, according to a study published in the April issue of the American Sociological Review.
“At the height of rising prevalence, which involved children born between 1992 and 1995,… wealthier kids were 20 to 40 percent more likely than poorer children to be diagnosed,” said Marissa King, an assistant professor of organizational behavior at Yale University who co-authored the study. “Among children born in 2000, however, parental wealth alone had no effect on the likelihood that a child would be diagnosed.”
King and her colleagues pinpointed the change by looking at diagnosis records for all children born in California between 1992 and 2000. They factored in variables such as property values in the child’s neighborhood and information about parents’ wealth and educational attainment.
The researchers found that the neighborhood a child lived in rather than family wealth played a bigger role in the likelihood of a child being diagnosed. Children from poor families who lived in more economically advantaged neighborhoods were 250 percent more likely to be diagnosed than those with similar means living in poorer neighborhoods, the study found.
However, no matter where a child lived, increased knowledge about autism over the course of the study period seemed to translate to a greater likelihood that children with the developmental disorder would be identified.
“As knowledge has spread about autism, information is now more evenly distributed across different kinds of communities,” said Peter Bearman, a professor of the social sciences at Columbia University who co-authored the study with King. “It is also easier to find someone who can diagnose autism, so we no longer see these huge differences in rates of diagnosis.”