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Autism rates vary depending on mother’s ethnicity and nation of origin

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According to a new study by UCLA researchers, a child’s risk of autism varies depending on the mother’s race, ethnicity, and nation of origin. The findings were published online on June 23 in the journal Pediatrics.

The study authors note that current understanding of the influence of maternal race/ethnicity and nation of origin is limited regarding autism among African Americans, Asians, and Hispanics in the United States. They explain that differences in the appearance of autism among minority children may be due to different cause or different cutoff points for the diagnosis. Therefore, they investigated whether the risk of developing autism differed among children based on the race, ethnicity, and nation of origin of the mother.

The study group comprised children born in Los Angeles County with a primary diagnosis of autism at ages three to five years from 1998 through 2009. The children were linked to 1995–2006 California birth certificates (7,540 children with autism from a total 1,626,354 births). The investigators identified a subgroup of children with autism and a secondary diagnosis of mental retardation; they investigated differences in language and behavior among this subgroup.

The researchers found an increased risks of being diagnosed with autism overall and specifically with coexisting mental retardation in children of foreign-born mothers who were black, Central/South American, Filipino, and Vietnamese, as well as among United States-born Hispanic and African American/black mothers, compared with US-born Caucasians. Compared to children of US-born Caucasians, children of US African American/black and foreign-born black, foreign-born Central/South American, and US-born Hispanic mothers were at higher risk of autism, characterized by both severe emotional outbursts and impaired language skills.

The authors concluded that maternal race/ethnicity and nation of origin are related to offspring’s autism diagnosis as well as the degree of severity. They recommended that further studies should be done to evaluate factors related to nation of origin and migration that may play a role in the development of as well as identification and diagnosis of autism in children.

Autism is a developmental disability that interferes with an individual’s ability to communicate and socialize. In autism, the different areas of the brain fail to work together. Autism affects each person differently and to varying degrees of severity. Children with autism may learn to talk later than other children their age, or they may not talk at all. Children with autism usually make less eye contact than other children. They often insist on sameness and routine and dislike change. Individuals with autism may have unusual reactions to sensations. They may have a high tolerance for pain or may be overly sensitive to sounds or touch. A hug may be painful, and soft, quiet noises may sound harsh. Certain smells and lights may be overwhelming. While autism is a lifelong disability, symptoms may lessen as a child matures and receives treatment.

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