The Intersection of Black History Month and Autism

Dr. Angel Durr

The Art of Autism is accepting contributions of art, poems, and prose for Black History Month. Email

By Dr. Angel Durr, Art of Autism Board member

As Black History Month approaches, it’s important to recognize how many African Americans are affected by autism. While autism affects people of all races, cultures, and backgrounds, the unique experiences and struggles of African Americans with autism are often overlooked. In an effort to strive towards a more inclusive Autistic community, let’s discuss the intersection of Black History Month and autism, exploring the struggles and triumphs of black autistic individuals in America. By understanding and acknowledging their experiences, we can help create a more accepting space for all those on the spectrum.

The Black History of Autism in America

As we celebrate Black History Month, it is important to recognize and acknowledge the struggles of those in the Black community living with autism. Autism has been a part of the American experience since the early 1900s. In 1932, the Tuskegee Institute began studying the effects of syphilis on African-American men in Macon County, Alabama. While their study was ethically questionable, it also shed light on the increased prevalence of autism among African-American men.

Though the relationship between autism and race had yet to be fully explored, this marked the beginning of our understanding of how autism affects people of color in America. Unfortunately, most of these studies went largely ignored and unacknowledged until recently, leaving a gap in our understanding of the disparities between how autism affects different racial groups.

The first Black psychiatrist to bring attention to autism was Dr. Alvin Poussaint, who in 1972 wrote an article for Ebony Magazine discussing his experiences with autistic children and the lack of resources available to them in the Black community. Since then, a number of organizations have been formed to support and advocate for those with autism, especially those of color. One such organization is Autism Speaks, which works to raise awareness and fund research into autism.

The Tuskegee Studies and Dr. Poussaint’s work were significant steps towards recognizing and accepting the struggles of Black people living with autism, and paving the way for a more inclusive and accepting future for everyone living with autism.

Prevalence of Autism in the Black Community

Despite the fact that autism affects individuals of all backgrounds, research has shown that Black Americans are less likely to be diagnosed with autism than those of other races. According to a recent survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the prevalence of autism in Black children is much lower than in non-Hispanic white children, with only 1 in every 43 Black children being diagnosed with the disorder compared to 1 in every 34 non-Hispanic white children.

These statistics could indicate a variety of possible factors, such as cultural differences or language barriers that can lead to a delay in diagnosis and treatment. For example, Black Americans often have difficulty accessing appropriate medical care due to lack of insurance or limited access to resources. As a result, it can be difficult for parents of Black children to even seek out help for their child’s symptoms or to receive an accurate diagnosis.

It’s also important to note that the current diagnosis rate for Black Americans may be significantly lower than the actual prevalence of autism among this population. This is due to the fact that many Black families may not be aware of the signs and symptoms of autism, making it harder for them to seek out help or get an accurate diagnosis.

Therefore, it is essential that we continue to strive towards raising awareness within the Black community about autism, so that more individuals can receive proper diagnosis and treatment. It is also essential that we work towards making sure that Black families have access to the resources they need to seek out help and receive an accurate diagnosis. By doing so, we can ensure that more Black individuals are receiving the help they need to live successful lives.

The Current State of Black Autistic Struggles in America

Despite the prevalence of autism among the Black community, Black autistic individuals often lack access to proper diagnosis and treatment. Even in households with sufficient resources, there is a tendency for the symptoms of autism to be overlooked in Black children, leading to late diagnoses and treatment. This further hinders Black autistic individuals from receiving appropriate care, leading to heightened levels of anxiety and depression.

Additionally, Black autistic individuals face discrimination and misunderstanding from those who are not familiar with the condition. These individuals may be subject to judgement and exclusion because their struggles do not conform to societal norms, leading to further alienation and isolation. Moreover, due to a lack of awareness and resources, Black autistic individuals are often overlooked and underserved in terms of employment, education, and health care.

The challenges faced by Black autistic individuals in America can seem insurmountable, but there is hope for a brighter future. With increased efforts to raise awareness about autism within the Black community and increased resources available for those living with the condition, there is great potential for Black autistic individuals to be better supported and embraced. With continued advocacy and education, we can create a more inclusive and understanding world for those living with autism.

The Journey to Making a More Inclusive Autistic Community

As Black History Month comes to a close, it is important to recognize and consider the experiences of Black autistic individuals in America. As mentioned earlier, these individuals face unique and often overlooked struggles, both on an individual level and within the larger Autistic community. In order to create a more inclusive and supportive environment for Black autistic individuals, it is crucial that these issues are addressed.

One step that can be taken towards creating a more inclusive Autistic community is the prioritization of cultural competence. This means that all members of the Autistic community should strive to become educated about and sensitive to the cultural and historical experiences of people from various backgrounds, including African Americans. It is essential that Autistic organizations understand the unique needs of Black autistic individuals in order to better serve them.

In the words of Black Autistic Mother Tiffany Hammond,

“Society doesn’t see Autistic child they see Black child, and sometimes they don’t even see ‘child’ when they look at my children.”

In addition to cultural competence, Autistic organizations should strive to create spaces where Black autistic individuals can share their experiences and be heard. This can include providing resources, such as therapy services and peer support networks, that are tailored to the needs of Black autistic individuals. It can also include creating spaces that are safe and welcoming for Black autistic individuals, such as discussion groups or events.

Finally, Autistic organizations should recognize the importance of amplifying the voices of Black autistic individuals. This can be done by featuring the stories and perspectives of Black autistic individuals in organization materials, providing opportunities for Black autistic individuals to speak at conferences or events, and actively seeking out Black autistic-led initiatives.

By taking these steps, Autistic organizations can make meaningful strides towards creating a more inclusive Autistic community that celebrates and supports the unique needs and experiences of Black autistic individuals.

Dr. Angel Durr

Dr Angel Durr is a Ph.D & AI Scientist, Entrepreneur, Speaker, Creative, Professor & Disability Advocate. She is a board member for The Art of Autism nonprofit.

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