John Elder Robison wrote two articles for Psychology Today three years ago where he mused why he never say any black, male Aspergians or persons with Aspergers Syndrome.
Well, as many of you know, I’m black. I’m male. And I have Aspergers. Which I guess means that I’m right up there with unicorns and the Loch Ness Monster.
Robison does ask some good questions about why there are so few male African Americans with autism out there. Of course, we do exist and I have met others black guys with Aspergers out there. But I think he is correct that we aren’t out there in the same way that other groups are.
My only guess is that like with so many things, black males tend to be somewhat invisible in our society if they aren’t in sports or in jail. I’m also gay and I can tell you that being male and black and gay kinda pushes you off to the margins.
Does racism have anything to do with this? Maybe. Sometimes what can be seen as quirky in white males can be seen a threatening when it’s done by a black man. But it also could be that black males with Aspergers have had to learn how to “act normal” in order to make it in society. Robison wonders about this as well:
To paraphrase what several people wrote: It’s hard enough being black, let alone being black and different. I think that may well be true. I suspect some black Aspergians learned how to fit in – just as I did – because they were not offered the “gentler special needs accommodations” afforded to middle class white kids.
It is this second group that interests me. If it’s true that a good many young black Aspergians manage to blend in, wouldn’t the rest of us benefit from knowing how they did it? I think so. I suspect they learned many of the same techniques that I and other middle aged Aspergians had to figure out, because there was no Asperger diagnosis when we grew up and it was sink-or-swim in the social pool for us, with no special accommodation.
So, what do we do? Well, probably one thing is that educators might need to be more aware that the black kid in their class that’s disruptive might not be a bad egg but instead has Aspergers or has ADHD or something. Other than that, I don’t know. What I do know is that we need to learn to be more aware of African American Males who might be autistic and find ways to get them help before they end up in jail.
Are you aware of the theory that Asperger’s is far more prevalent in people who are of north-western European heritage, like myself?
Lee — are you aware that many people of color who seek, or have sought a diagnosis in the past, have been denied a diagnosis based on bias, and often face additional challenges in getting formal diagnoses and the support they need?
I would add that there are a lot more challenges facing people of color when it comes to getting diagnosed and in getting treatment. For one thing many African Americans might not have access to health care or mental health services, so they can’t get a diagnosis. This is probably one reason we don’t see as many black aspies, many just haven’t been diagnosed because they don’t have access to health care.