Exploratory spatial analysis of autism rates in New York school districts: role of sociodemographic and language differences

Kathleen McGrath, Karen Bonuck, Mana Mann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Background: Literature on autism spectrum disorder (ASD) suggests lower ASD prevalence and higher age of diagnosis among children of color, from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, and from families with lower educational levels. These disparities have been attributed to factors such as limited access to diagnostic and treatment services, less opportunity for upward mobility to locales with ample resources, and linguistic barriers. However, few studies describe prevalence and geographic differences of ASD diagnoses by English Language Learner (ELL) status. Objectives: The primary objectives of this study are to (1) spatially explore the prevalence of ASD among New York State school districts and (2) examine differences of ASD prevalence rates between ELLs and native English-speaking peers. Methods: Using the 2016–2017 district-level data on public and non-public school age students (3–21 years old) receiving special education services in New York, we analyzed sociodemographic trends among school districts with varying percentages (low, medium, and high ranges) of students with ASD and ELLs. To do this, we conducted exploratory spatial analyses using GIS software, analysis of school district level demographic data, and multivariate linear regression. Results: In contrast to prior research on ASD prevalence among minority groups, we found disproportionately higher rates of ASD among school districts with higher proportions of Black and Hispanic students. Geographic analysis revealed statistically significant clustering of school districts with high ASD rates in New York City and Albany. Higher proportions of ELLs tended to be concentrated in densely populated, urban, and geographically smaller school districts and had higher proportions of Black, Hispanic, and Asian students. Conclusions: Schools with higher rates of ASD and ELL students tend to be concentrated in urban regions throughout New York and have higher representation of Black and Hispanic/Latino students, as well as higher rates of learning disabilities in general. Further research is warranted to explore possible reasons for this phenomenon.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number35
JournalJournal of Neurodevelopmental Disorders
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2020


  • Autism
  • Disability
  • English Language Learners
  • Geographic information systems
  • Sociodemographics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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