Date of Award

Summer 8-2023

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Communication & Theatre Arts


Lifespan and Digital Communication

Committee Director

Thomas J. Socha

Committee Member

Gary Beck

Committee Member

Danielle Jackson


In 2023 the Centers of Disease Control reported that around 1 in 36 children are diagnosed with Autism in America and that the prevalence has increased by 178% since 2000 (CDC, 2023). Despite increases in awareness and diagnosis past research finds that the discussions of ASD in African American communities is minimal (Fombonne, 2003; Yeargin Allsopp et al., 2003). This disparity is important considering that African American children receive an ASD diagnosis years later than their white counterparts and are much more likely to be misdiagnosed (Mandell et al., 2009, 2002).

Given the history of a lack of representation of African Americans in the ASD literature and disparities in its diagnosis, treatment, and management, this thesis reports an exploratory, qualitative communication study of African American parents’ understandings of ASD and their associated experiences. A purposive sample of 10 African American parents of ASD children were interviewed and analyzed using analytical induction and NVivo-12.

Overall, the primary findings this thesis discovered is that many African American parents of children with ASD reported meanings associated with ASD as being neurologically “different,” but not neurologically “disordered” (as understood in the medical community). Also similar to other parents ASD is seen as something that is a “danger” to their child requiring parental protections. However, to the extent institutionalized racist patterns are perceived to exist in a given context, unique among African American parents is the perception that ASD also means a heightened need to protect the child from “yet one more way to experience discrimination” by exercising heighted caution when interacting with white medical providers. African American parents shared their difficult experiences communicating with white service providers that led to the development of a “fighting” spirit within them to advocate for their children and protect them even more. Finally, the parents expressed their difficulties of raising a child with ASD highlighting family members reactions, lack of support, cultural conflicts, and the need for more education about ASD in the African American community.


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