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Improving Equitable Identification of Developmental Delays and Autism Spectrum Disorder

Statement of Problem

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 1 in 59 children have autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Despite the high prevalence, significant disparities exist in identifying ASD and other developmental disabilities in young children from ethnic/racial minority backgrounds, as well as girls. Early identification of ASD, which allows for the earliest possible intervention, helps children to be their healthiest selves, yet children of color and girls are more likely to be identified at later ages—if at all. They are also under-represented in early intervention (EI) services—including speech/language therapy, occupational therapy and special education—for developmental delays. In turn, these disparities in identification and access to services can prevent vulnerable populations from receiving necessary autism-specific interventions.


Improving Equitable Identification of Developmental Delays and Autism Spectrum Disorder


Pediatricians were more likely to refer children who are white, male and from an English-only speaking home. These findings suggest that differences in referrals may impact children’s access to diagnostic and intervention services and may contribute to disparities in ASD diagnosis.


Next Steps

Through these various studies, Dr. Wallis and her team are gaining an understanding of the processes that may be contributing to disparities in ASD identification among children of color, low-income children and girls. While we have known for many years that ethnic/racial minority and low-income populations and girls are more likely to be diagnosed with ASD at later ages, if at all, these studies inform our understanding of some of the mechanisms by which delayed identification occurs.

Dr. Wallis aims to use these insights to develop strategies for bettering the process of developmental surveillance and screening, improving developmental outcomes for all children, and bridging gaps in identification and care for low-income and ethnic/racial minority children and girls with developmental delays and ASD.

This project page was last updated in March 2020.

Suggested Citation

Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, PolicyLab. Improving Equitable Identification of Developmental Delays and Autism Spectrum Disorder [Online]. Available at: [Accessed: plug in date accessed here].