There is a silent epidemic sweeping America and it affects the black community the hardest. This epidemic is autism and what is known as the Autism Spectrum Disorders, ASD. This condition is a developmental disability of severe chronic conditions due to mental and/or physical impairments. For people with developmental disabilities, major life activities such as language, mobility, learning, self-help, and independent living is much harder. Usually these disabilities begin in the early years of a child’s development up to age 22 and then last throughout a person’s lifetime.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, developmental disabilities occur among all racial, ethnic, and socio-economic groups; one in 6 children between the ages of 3 through 17 have one or more developmental disabilities. Shockingly  one in 68 children were identified with ASD across multiple areas of the United States. CDC data indicates that early intervention is essential when it comes to treating a child with ASD. However, black children are less likely to be diagnosed with ASD than white children. According to a study completed by the National Institutes of Health, “On average, white children received the Autism Disorder diagnosis at 6.3 years of age, compared with 7.1 years for black children. White children entered the mental health system at an earlier age of 6 while black children entered around 7 years of age. However, after adjusting for age, sex and time eligible for Medicaid, black children required more time in treatment before receiving the diagnosis.”

In addition, the CDC has indicated that non-hispanic black children had a higher incidence of stuttering and stammering than non-Hispanic white children. Children insured by Medicaid had nearly double the incidence of any developmental disability compared to those with private insurance. The economics of autism show that children from families with income below the federal poverty level have a higher incidence of developmental disabilities as a whole. It is estimated that the cost is $17,000 per year to care for a child with ASD compared to a child without ASD. These costs include such things as healthcare premiums, education, therapy, family services and caregiver time. In 2011, it was estimated that the total societal costs of caring for a child with ASD was more than $11.5 billion.

When it comes to treating children with ASD who are on Medicaid, black families are faced with a unique set of problems. Many times physical and occupational therapy sessions are not covered by Medicaid unless a parent becomes an activist parent. The activist parent is one who learns about the child’s condition and becomes active in their care and development. It also means learning and utilizing any programs that your child is eligible to receive. From the adaptive behavioral specialist, who can tutor an autistic child at home, to in-school therapy such as speech or fine motor skills. In many cases, these services must be provided under the Americans with Disabilities Act while a child is in public school.

Mo Barnes

"Mo Betta" Maurice "Mo" Barnes is a graduate of Morehouse College and Political Scientist based in Atlanta. Mo is also a Blues musician.