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(SDAR) Understanding the impact of disparitiy in special education services for underrepresented groups with ASD


  • Early Childhood (3-5 years)
  • Adolescence (12-18 years)
  • Young Adulthood (19-25 years)

Targeted/Underserved Population

  • Low-income
  • Hispanic/Latino



Early intervention and continuity of care is critical for individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Yet, profound inequity exists in early screening and access to services for underresourced individuals with ASD across the lifespan. Most researchers examine sociodemographic disparity as it relates to community obtained services. However, children with ASD are entitled to free and appropriate educational services (including health services such as speech, occupational and behavioral services) starting at age three. There should not exist disparities in obtaining services in publicly funded school programs post diagnosis; yet parents report this to be the case. Little research exists on characterizing recent sociodemographic disparities in large publicly-funded school programs. Even less is known about the sociodemographic disparity impacts the optimal number, types, and packages of educational services that may improve educational and vocational outcomes for youth with ASD. Goals/Objective: To characterize youth-level sociodemographic disparity in special education for underresourced youth with ASD and sequentially to understand the impact of these disparities into young adulthood. Goal 1: Characterize youth-level disparities (i.e., gender, language, ethnicity) and possible moderators of sociodemographic disparity (i.e., family socioeconomic status, neighborhood SES) in special education accommodations and supportive services among youth with ASD. Goal 2: Identify special education service use patterns at each stage of development and identify sources of disparity (i.e., gender, language, ethnicity, family socioeconomic status, neighborhood SES) in the profile of services received by students. Goal 3: Using longitudinal data, identify optimal pathways of special education services and accommodations for students with ASD from middle school through high school to inform benchmarks for initial successful transition to adulthood. In addition, determine sources of disparity (i.e., gender, language, ethnicity, family socioeconomic status, neighborhood SES) in access to pathways that result in optimal outcomes. Goal 4: Disseminate results to the scientific community, key stakeholders, and other target audiences, with the goal of fostering awareness and implementation of findings and promoting community advocacy, and to identify future research needs. Proposed Activity and Target Populations: The proposed project will utilize annual longitudinal special education administrative record data from a large southwestern school district from the academic years 2011-2012 through 2016-2017 for secondary data analysis to address the proposed goals. Students were followed over multiple years, and include youth who received services under autism eligibility, were ages 2 to 18 and enrolled in preschool through 12th grade. The proposed sample includes N=18,910 students with ASD (74,629 total observations) of whom 58% are Hispanic, 21% White, and 67% received free and reduced lunch. Impact and Innovation: The proposed research is novel in several ways. Our proposed longitudinal study will utilize one of the largest and most diverse special education samples of youth with ASD to be examined thus far. Results will characterize sociodemographic disparities in publicly-funded school programs, and elucidate their impact on educational and vocational outcomes for youth with ASD. The findings have the potential to inform the educational sector on a large scale, specifically guiding policy and the allocation of school services to address sociodemographic disparities for under-resourced and/or underrepresented students with ASD.


Listed is descending order by year published.

Baczewski LM, Pizzano M, Kasari C, Sturm A. Adjustment across the first college year: a matched comparison of autistic, ADHD, & neurotypical students. Autism in Adulthood.2021 September

Bal VH, Bishop S, Hartley S, Lounds Taylor J, Sturm A. Brief report: the Application of Skills and Knowledge (ASK) model: a novel conceptualization of social performance to guide instrument development and advance adult autism research. PsyArXiv Preprints. Published online February 18, 2021. doi:10.31234/

Sturm A, Williams J, Kasari C. Who gains and who loses? Sociodemographic disparities in access to special education services among autistic students. Autism Res. 2021;14(8):1621-1632. doi:10.1002/aur.2517

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