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Autism Spectrum Disorders Health Center

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Mother's Birthplace May Affect Autism Risk in Kids

Some foreign-born mothers now in U.S. are more likely to have children with the disorder, study finds

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Kathleen Doheny

HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, June 24, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- A mother's birthplace may affect her children's risk of developing an autism spectrum disorder, according to new research.

Children of foreign-born black, Central and South American, Filipino and Vietnamese mothers were more likely to have an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) compared to children born to white mothers who were born in the United States, the study found.

"The rates [of ASDs] in the African immigrants was the highest," said lead researcher Dr. Beate Ritz, chair of epidemiology at the Fielding School of Public Health at the University of California, Los Angeles.

The study also found that U.S.-born African American and Hispanic mothers, as well as foreign-born black and Central/South American mothers, were more likely to have children with a type of autism that included severe emotional outbursts and expressive language impairment, compared to U.S.-born white mothers.

The study is published in the July print issue of Pediatrics.

Although this study found an association between a mother's birthplace or race and the development of an autism spectrum disorder, the study doesn't show that these factors cause autism.

Autism spectrum disorders describe a range of developmental disabilities that can cause social, communication and behavioral difficulties. About 1 in 68 U.S. children have an autism spectrum disorder, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates.

The exact cause of autism is unknown, but a number of risk factors have been found, including genetic risk factors, being born to older parents and having a sibling with the disorder, according to the CDC.

Previous studies have found autism spectrum disorders are most common among white children, Ritz noted.

In her study, Ritz wanted to look at the influence of the mother's race, ethnicity and birthplace. She and her colleagues reviewed the records of 7,540 children with autism who were born in Los Angeles County during the years 1998 to 2009 and given an autism diagnosis at ages 3 to 5 years. The researchers adjusted for other factors such as maternal age and education.

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