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Autism spectrum disorders in Hispanics and non-Hispanics

Posted Sep 05 2012 12:34am

Most autism research has focused on America and Europe. Not all, but most. Within the U.S. there remain populations who are under identified and under served. Racial and ethnic minorities are examples of such populations.

Within California, where the CHARGE Study is ongoing, Hispanics are qunder represented in administrative counts (e.g. Special Education).

This is an area that has struck me as a topic that needs attention. That needs change. Which is why I was both pleased to see and unsurprised by a press release last week from U.C. Davis’ MIND Institute:


Yes, many Hispanic children do go undiagnosed, even today. And, yes, we as a people should be doing more to remedy that.

Robin Hansen of MIND is quoted as saying:

“That so many children are slipping through the cracks is disheartening,” Hansen said. “The differences between developmental disabilities can be subtle but important and involve distinct treatment pathways. We need to make sure that all children are getting routine developmental screening, early diagnosis and intervention so they can achieve their fullest potential.”

Interestingly the primary focus of the abstract for the study is not the underdiagnosis aspect but the result that for bilingual families, the autistic children score lower on the Mullen Scales of Early Learning.

Robin Hansen again:

“Our results emphasize the importance of considering cultural and other family factors such as multiple language exposure that can affect development when interpreting clinical tests, even when they are conducted in the child’s preferred language,” said Robin Hansen, chief of developmental-behavioral pediatrics at UC Davis, director of clinical programs with the MIND Institute and a study co-author.

The abstract:

Objectives To compare differences in autism between Hispanic and non-Hispanics. We also examined the relationship between multiple language exposure and language function and scores of children.

Methods The Childhood Autism Risks from Genetics and the Environment (CHARGE) study is an ongoing population-based case-control study with children sampled (n=1061) from three strata: those with autism (AU) or autism spectrum disorder (ASD); developmental delay (DD); or the general population (GP).

Results Non-Hispanic cases demonstrated higher cognitive composite scores for the Mullen Scales of Early Learning (MSEL). There were significant associations between multiple language exposure and MSEL subscales for receptive language and expressive language, in both cases (AU/ASD) and TD controls, but not DD controls. Results of multivariate regression analyses suggest several predictors to be associated with lower Mullen expressive language scores including: diagnosis of ASD/AU, speaking to the child in a second language 25-50% of the time and Hispanic ethnicity; while maternal college education was associated with higher scores.

Conclusion Overall, the CHARGE Hispanic group displayed more similarities than differences compared to non-Hispanics in terms of autistic phenotypes and maladaptive & adaptive scores for cases. The relationship between multiple language use and cognitive scores warrants a closer look.

By Matt Carey

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