Risk varies by race and ethnicity.
Can the place where a woman is born and raised be a risk factor for autism in her child? According to new research out of UCLA, the answer is yes.
In the U.S., the prevalence of autism has been reported to be highest among non-Hispanic white children, but a new study from the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health offers evidence that other ethnic groups actually are at a higher risk for the disorder. Using data from racially diverse Los Angeles County, which is home to a large number of recent immigrants, the researchers found that the mother’s place of birth is a risk factor for autism among U.S. children.
Specifically, they found that when compared with children born to white American mothers, children of foreign-born women who are black, Central or South American, Filipino and Vietnamese had a higher risk of autism. The same held true for children of U.S.-born African American and Hispanic women. The risks were adjusted for maternal age, education levels, socioeconomic status, whether the families had health insurance and other factors known to influence the diagnosis rate.
The study appears in the current online edition of the journal Pediatrics.
Autism spectrum disorders are complex developmental disorders that affect how a person behaves, interacts with others, communicates and learns. Until now, though, scientists have had a difficult time determining possible prenatal risk factors other than the mother’s age and complications during pregnancy. However, recent European studies have reported an association between the nation where a woman is born and her children’s risk for autism.
“Epidemiology has a long tradition of using migration studies to understand how environmental and genetic factors contribute to disease risk in populations,” said Dr. Beate Ritz, the paper’s senior author, and a professor and chair of the Fielding school’s Department of Epidemiology. The fact that 22 percent of 6-year-olds born in the United States have immigrant parents opened a unique opportunity for us to consider the inﬂuence of nativity, race and ethnicity on the causes of autism spectrum disorder.”