To describe racial differences in use of specialty care among children with autism spectrum disorder.
We identified patients ages 2 to 21 years with an International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Revision code of autism (299.0) seen from 2000 to 2011 at a major academic health center by using a research patient data repository and determined rates of specialty provider visits and procedures by race. We then used logistic regression to determine the associations of rates of subspecialty visits and procedures with race and ethnicity, controlling for gender, age, and payer type.
We identified 3615 patients (2935 white, 243 Hispanic, 188 African American, and 249 other). The most striking differences were in use of gastroenterology (GI)/nutrition services. Nonwhite children were less likely to use GI/nutrition specialty providers (African American, odds ratio = 0.32 [95th percentile confidence interval: 0.18–0.55]; Hispanic, 0.32 [0.20–0.51]; other, 0.56 [0.34–0.92]) as well as neurology (African American, 0.52 [0.33–0.83]; Hispanic, 0.40 [0.27–0.59]) and psychiatry/psychology (African American, 0.44 [0.27–0.72]; Hispanic, 0.60 [0.41–0.88]; other, 0.62 [0.38–0.99]). Nonwhite children were less likely to have had GI studies: colonoscopy (African American, 0.23 [0.10–0.53]; Hispanic, 0.26 [0.14–0.50]), endoscopy (African American, 0.31 [0.16–0.58]; Hispanic, 0.27 [0.16–0.46]; other, 0.53 [0.31–0.90]), and stool studies (African American, 0.49 [0.30–0.91]). Hispanic children had lower rates of neurologic and other testing: EEG (Hispanic, 0.53 [0.35–0.78]), brain MRI (African American, 0.37 [0.22–0.63]; Hispanic, 0.62 [0.42–0.90]), sleep study (Hispanic, 0.18 [0.04–0.76]), and neuropsychiatric testing (Hispanic, 0.55 [0.32–0.96]).
We found racial and ethnic differences among children diagnosed with autism in use of care and procedures. Possible explanations for these findings include differences in presentation, referral rates, or referral follow through.