A new report from The Autism Intervention Research Network on Physical Health (AIR-P) has found children with autism who are non-white or live in low-income households are more likely to face poor health outcomes and challenges with health care.

Race and income are key social determinants of health (SDoH) impacting children with autism, according to AIR-P’s National Autism Indicators Report: The Intersection of Autism, Health, Poverty, and Racial Inequity released this week. AIR-P, a collaboration between UCLA Health’s Department of Medicine and the Policy and Analytics Center at Drexel University's A.J. Drexel Autism Institute, used national data from 2017 through 2020 to examine the racial/ethnic and income-based disparities among children with autism and those without autism and white children with autism versus Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) children.

“Discrimination based on race and socioeconomic status is increasingly recognized as an important risk factor to people’s health,” said Alice Kuo, M.D., Ph.D., chief of medicine-pediatrics at UCLA and project investigator for the federally-funded AIR-P, in a statement. “With this report, we can begin to see the devastating combination of autism, poverty, and race, an important step in translating the research we do into policy and practice to improve outcomes for people with autism.”

Here's what AIR-P researchers found:

  • More than half of the children with autism lived in low-income households and one in four lived in poor households. Two-thirds of children with autism from low-income households were BIPOC.
  • Children with autism had poorer overall health, dental health, and chronic health issues compared to children without autism. BIPOC children had a higher percentage of poorer overall health, dental health, and more severe autism than white children with autism.
  • Caregivers of children with autism were four times more likely to experience challenges with needed health care in the past year compared to those with children without autism.
  • BIPOC children with autism had lower levels of access to care compared to white children with autism.
  • About one in five families of children with autism reported having out-of-pocket health care costs of $1,000 or higher.

“More work is needed to understand the complex ways in which autism, socioeconomic status (including educational and occupational factors, in addition to income), and race/ethnicity combine to affect health,” wrote report authors, calling for future research to examine disparities across a range of SDoH, such as economic stability, education, and neighborhood. They also recommended an increased focus on policies beyond health care to address health equity among children in the U.S., including economic safety net policies such as food stamps and Social Security.