Inequality in Public Spending on Children with Autism

Data analyzed by the Los Angeles Times revealed that there are striking disparities in public spending on children with autism in California according to racial or ethnic group and socioeconomic status.  These disparities have been attributed to how much parents fight for services for their children.

The figures:

  • In California, autism accounted for one tenth of special education enrollment but one third of the disputes between schools and parents on record with the state.
  • For autistic children aged 3 to 6 the state Department of Developmental Services spent an average of $11,723 per child on whites last year, compared with $11,063 on Asians, $7,634 on Latinos and $6,593 on blacks.
  • Spending ranged from an average of $1,991 per child at the regional center in South Los Angeles to $18,356 at the one in Orange County.
  • Among the 238 white elementary school students with autism on the Westside, 42% have one on one personal aides. In the less affluent Eastside, just 4% of the 560 Latino students with autism have them.

It might be tempting to blame such disparities on prejudice, but the explanation is more complicated.

Securing a range of services for an autistic child can necessitate battling with the gatekeepers of the state and school district. However not all parents have the time and resources to do this.

“Part of what you’re seeing here is the more educated and sophisticated you are, the louder you scream and the more you ask for,” said Soryl Markowitz, an autism specialist at the Westside Regional Center, which arranges state-funded services in West Los Angeles for people with developmental disabilities.

The Department of Developmental Services attributed the disparities in services to language and cultural barriers, as well as to shortages of service providers in certain areas.

Diane Anand, the executive director of the Frank D. Lanterman Regional Center, said many minority children enrolled in the system receive few or no services because their parents can’t participate as required in orientations or therapy sessions.

Anand faulted state officials for failing to research the causes of the disparities.

“I don’t know what you do about some of this,” she said. “This is an issue that has bedeviled our service system for years and years.”