Autism spectrum disorders in Hispanics and non-Hispanics

5 Sep

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:

Autism spectrum disorders in Hispanics and non-Hispanics

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

5 Responses to “Autism spectrum disorders in Hispanics and non-Hispanics”

  1. Science Mom September 5, 2012 at 18:24 #

    I haven’t looked but do you know of any prevalence figures from the Hispanics’ countries of origin? If so, how do they align with those being found in the U.S.? I’m glad to see that the diagnosis net is being cast farther out.

    • Chris September 5, 2012 at 18:36 #

      the Hispanics’ countries of origin

      In California the country of origin was often the “Republic of California.” Our neighbors in Pacific Grove, CA were third to fourth generation Portuguese, descended from those who were part of the sardine fisheries in the late 19th century. Seafood feasts at their house was always educational. Being a kid I just stuck to the crab, but my parents enjoyed the goose barnacles.

      I often wonder if these surveys take into account how many generations away they are from their country of origin?

  2. thefowler4group September 5, 2012 at 20:15 #

    So glad to see the autism net is widening. Do you know of any other Spanish-speaking organizations reaching out to families affected by autism? We’ve recently translated our book for parents of autistic children into Spanish and would love to get connected.

  3. Science Mom September 6, 2012 at 03:04 #

    I often wonder if these surveys take into account how many generations away they are from their country of origin?

    That’s a good question Chris. I’m too busy to read the original study right now so maybe our esteemed host can shed some light on this.

    • Chris September 6, 2012 at 08:38 #

      More interesting, do they consider those who come from Portugal to be “Hispanic”? Their family was not from Spain. I You can’t just go by the family’s name. (which was Gonzalez, by the way… how can you tell that is Portuguese?)

      It is an interesting subject for me. I spent a third of my youth in South and Central America, plus the longest time (3.5 years) I ever spent in one place before college was near Monterey Bay (Ft. Ord, CA after Pacific Grove…. guess what my dad did!). My dad’s boss (also known as the “commanding officer) liked to give costume parties. When there was a “Wild West” theme my parents went as Spanish colonists (another officer went in a kimono with a Kobe Cattle Ranch label on the back, Japan is west of California).

      One of the high school marching band dads was Cuban, originally from Florida. Except he cannot speak any Spanish. I am embarrassed at how bad my Spanish is, but I can get by. So we both agreed that I was more Hispanic than he was. The part that tilted the scale was that I was actually born in Panama.

      I once freaked out a Chilean college classmate by knowing about Bernardo O’Higgens. So I know you can never go by a person’s last name. I have also learned if you run into someone with a Spanish accent that they are quite delighted to be asked where they are from. Most of them hate being assumed they are from Mexico (except the few I met who were Mexican, like Papa Esceptico, who came to our Skeptic Meetup while visiting his sister who lives in the USA).

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