Objective: To examine racial differences in the age at which Medicaid-eligible children first receive an autistic disorder (AD) diagnosis and to examine time in mental health treatment until an AD diagnosis was received.
Method: Philadelphia Medicaid specialty mental health claims identified 406 children who received services in 1999 for AD. Claims from 1993-1999 were used to identify the date of first mental health visit, first receipt of AD diagnosis, and number of visits occurring between those dates. Linear regression was used to examine the relationship among race, age at first diagnosis of AD, time in mental health treatment, and number of visits until the diagnosis was made.
Results: On average, white children received the AD diagnosis at 6.3 years of age, compared with 7.9 years for black children (p <.001). White children entered the mental health system at an earlier age (6.0 versus 7.1 years, p =.005); however, after adjusting for age, sex, and time eligible for Medicaid, black children required more time in treatment before receiving the diagnosis.
Conclusions: Important disparities exist in the early detection and treatment of autism. These disparities may be the result of differences in help-seeking, advocacy and support, and clinician behaviors.