As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention strive to improve the racial, educational, and income disparities in health, a new study reveal the influence of ethnicity and educational levels affects a mother’s perceptions when raising a child with autism.  

According to the study conducted at the University of Michigan, some mothers whose children were diagnosed with autism and are embarking on their journey through adolescence, undergo an intense negative emotional, social and financial experience.

The study analyzed data of children who were diagnosed with autism at just two-years-old. Themba Carr, the lead study author and a post-doctoral research fellow in autism early intervention studies at the Center for Human Growth and Development, continued to gather information through direct evaluations and interviews up to the age of nine and followed up through phone interviews and questionnaires when the children turned 14.  

It was revealed that African-American mothers who completed some level of college, displayed lower levels of perceived negativity towards autism. Researchers believe mothers who completed higher levels of education also possess a greater understanding of autism and the difficulties their child may face. Higher education level may also increase a mother’s aspiration for their child’s achievements, which may increase the level of disappointme in the mother when the autistic child does not live up to those lofty aspirations.

Results revealed the amount of hours of treatment African-American children received compared to white children was significantly lower. By age nine white children received 1,856 more hours and by 14 the disparity between hours increases to 1,958.

Along with educational levels, cultural differences may also affect a mother’s perception of autism. In African-American communities where women have stronger traditional social networks and are regarded as an excessively religious person, may possibly be protective and see caring for a child with autism as “less of a burden and more of an accepted family obligation.”  

According to Carr, “It could be that families that perceive children as a greater burden advocate more for services, or that having fought for services, some families are more aware of their children's negative impact on their lives.” She continued, “It may also be that parents perceive lower levels of negative impact of caring for their child do not feel as great a need to access services.”   

This study was published in Autism.