Autism while Black

By JHODIE-ANN WILLIAMS | 11/25/2015, 12:10 p.m.
If you’re Black, you’re not allowed to have a developmental or mental disorder.

“If he is going to be charged with anything, then the people who have failed him—the clinical team that should’ve put some intervention in place from when he was a young teen—should be charged double,” said Downer.

Downer said that she’s sure that if McCollum’s school files were looked into that there would be warning signs about his condition. Perhaps they would find notes from teachers about class disruption, lack of eye contact, inability to understand social and emotional issues, awkward mannerisms or repetitive speech. These are all symptoms of Asperger’s, according to Autism Speaks, a leading advocacy organization—all of which were probably dismissed as McCollum misbehaving or “being weird.”

“Our children don’t physically look disabled, because they seem, outwardly, that they look like every other child,” said Downer. “People just assume that you’re a bad parent.”

Black parents need to be educated on the symptoms, testing and treatment options so that they can advocate for their children. When Downer, who also visits with families of autistic children to deliver training, visits different homes or support groups she sees the disparity.

“There’s usually one Black person or two. Majority are white,” said Downer.

A study from Autism Speaks indicated that regressive autism—losing early language and social skills—is twice as common in African-American children as whites. Before this new report, race was not noted as a dividing factor. Armed with this new information, Black parents should be diligent and ask why.

For years, the CDC has been scrutinized for withholding studies that link autism in African-Americans to vaccinations given to children before the age of 3. In 1996, it was reported that in 1989, the CDC was administering experimental vaccines to African-American and Latino children in Los Angeles without telling their parents that the drugs were experimental. During this year’s Million Man March, the Rev. Tony Muhammad, the Western Regional Representative for the Nation of Islam, took to the podium to reveal that Robert F. Kennedy Jr. told him some “shocking” and “terrible” news about the CDC in Atlanta. “It had been brought to our attention that the senior lead scientist for the Centers for Disease Control has admitted that the MMR vaccine and many of the vaccine shots have been genetically modified to attack Black and Latino boys,” said Muhammad. Over 70 years ago we had the infamous Tuskegee syphilis experiment, and it lasted 40 years. Nearly 30 years ago it was the CDC’s scandal in Los Angeles, which was kept quiet for nearly 10 years. Now, in 2015, it’s Georgia.

Kennedy has since denied that, that was the content of his conversation with Muhammad, according to reports from the Blaze, a news website founded by conservative radio and television personality Glenn Beck. Whatever the conversation was, the theory of autism being linked to vaccinations is a prevalent one. Downer believes that vaccinations stunted her son’s development.

“I have videos of him interacting with me when he was about 1, and then after his vaccines he seemed to regress again,” said Downer.

Changing how Black children are dealt with in the medical world begins with acknowledgement at home. It’s how we can get one step closer to making informed decisions about the welfare of our children. For more information on diagnosis, treatment, statistics or support groups, please visit and