The number of schoolchildren with autism has increased nationwide in recent years, but a new study suggests that some kids are still being overlooked.

Despite the rise in autism at schools across the country, researchers say that black and Hispanic kids remain far less likely than others to be identified on the spectrum.

“Although there is no firm epidemiological evidence that race is predictive of autism, we found substantial racial differences in the ways U.S. schools identify students with autism,” researchers wrote in their findings published this month in the Journal of Special Education.

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For the study, researchers looked at data from each state on children identified by their schools as having autism under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in 2000 and 2007. The figures reflect administrative classifications by schools, which do not necessarily involve a clinical diagnosis.

During that time, the number of white students identified as having autism grew in every state. Increases were also observed for black students in all states except Alaska and Montana and for Hispanics everywhere except Kentucky, Louisiana and the District of Columbia. Across the board, however, the number of minority children with autism rose at much smaller rates than that of their white peers, the study found.

It’s unclear why autism rates in schools appear to vary by race, but researchers said it likely has to do with differing levels of awareness.

Practically, however, they said the disparity suggests that valuable services for students with autism — including early intervention — may not be equally distributed to children from all backgrounds.

“These data depict what’s going on in schools,” said Jason Travers, an assistant professor of special education at the University of Kansas who co-authored the study. “Whether or not they match with clinical diagnoses, the numbers can be associated with a variety of costs. They tell us about the human costs, financial resources dedicated to services, administrative costs, community costs and many others.”

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