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 Moving Toward Health Equity: Reducing Disparities for People with Autism Spectrum Disorder

By Kate Taft, MPH
Senior Program Manager, CYSHCN, AMCHP

Reducing health disparities is an important focus in public health and a critical strategy in moving toward health equity. In May, the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) Combating Autism Act Initiative (CAAI) grantees from Iowa, Minnesota and Ohio presented on their efforts to address health disparities for people with autism spectrum disorder and other developmental disabilities (ASD/DD). For individuals on the autism spectrum, disparities can exist in accessing diagnostic and treatment services, access to care based on location, and racial and cultural differences.

Grantees shared their efforts to better understand disparities in their states and communities, and initiatives to address those disparities. For example, the Minneapolis Somali Autism Spectrum Disorder Prevalence Project aimed to determine the prevalence of ASD in Minneapolis and assess if there was a difference in prevalence among Somali vs. non-Somali children. The study found that Somali and White children were more likely to be identified with ASD than Black and Hispanic children in Minneapolis, and Somali children with ASD were more likely to also have an intellectual disability than children with ASD in all other racial and ethnic groups. The results have implications to help family members better understand ASD and talk to community leaders about the need for increased awareness; for providers to identify where services are needed and where outreach should be targeted; and for policymakers and advocates to develop and refine policies to promote early identification and equity in access so that all children have access to evaluation and treatment.

Similarly, grantees in Ohio have been working to ensure all families have equitable access to needed services and are able to navigate the system of care. Collaboration with families and state and community partners is a key strategy to this work. This includes outreach to families in minority populations, such as Somali, African-American and Latino communities, as well as the community and provider agencies that work with families. By developing and engaging new networks of partners, Ohio grantees have been able to increase dissemination of information and resources to families throughout the state. Partnerships have led to the development of joint projects, such as training webinars, families with autism medial lecture series, social media toolkits, public service announcements and the translation of materials into Spanish and Somali.
In Iowa, grantees at the University of Iowa Children's Hospital are addressing disparities in access to health care for people living in rural and other underserved areas. For children with ASD, many access to urgently needed behavioral services, especially those in small towns and rural areas. This project examined telehealth as a strategy to increase the availability of evidence-based Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) practices to all geographic areas. The study results indicated that ABA and behavioral consultation delivered through telehealth can help parents significantly reduce challenging behavior and improve social communication in children with ASD. It also can be a more cost-effective option for delivering those services to families living in rural areas when compared to costs of behavioral consultants having to travel onsite or to the home.

The CAAI Virtual Activity series provides a way for grantees to share their successes and lessons learned with fellow grantees and others in the field of ASD/DD, and facilitate discussion on topics of mutual interest. To find out more information about efforts to reduce health disparities, access the webinar recording and presenter slides and materials on the AMCHP website at:

For more information about the CAAI, visit​