By Adriana Gamondes
…displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat. It is an unnecessary insult.
~Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
A recent study in Pediatrics reports that autism rates now appear to be higher among the children of American born Hispanic and African American mothers and among children of mothers within certain immigrant groups:
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.
This report is a dramatic turnaround from only a few years ago, when the CDC reported an entirely different pattern among ethnic groups in the US:
Non-Hispanic white children were approximately 30% more likely to be identified with ASD than non-Hispanic black children and were almost 50% more likely to be identified with ASD than Hispanic children.
The earlier CDC study went on to say that it was unknown whether the disparities in ethnic rates existed because of differences in recognition or diagnosing:
The extent to which this variation might be attributable to diagnostic practices, underrecognition of ASD symptoms in some racial/ethnic groups, socioeconomic disparities in access to services, and regional differences in clinical or school-based practices that might influence the findings in this report is unclear.
But as David Kirby reported in the Huffington Post in 2009, not even National Institute of Health director Thomas Insel thought the rise in autism could be explained away by changes in diagnostic practices or “increased recognition,” so it might follow that the formerly low rates of autism among minority children could not be entirely explained by lack of recognition. Not only were rates of autism among minorities lower, as autism rose among white children in the US, rates among Hispanics in some regions were even dropping:
In 2006, the rate among non-Hispanic white children was 102-per-10,000, but among black children it was 76-per-10,000, a 34 percent difference, and among Hispanic children it was 61-per-10,000, a difference of 67 percent.
Inexplicably, the rate among Hispanics in Alabama actually plummeted during the period in question, by 68 percent, from an already low 19-per-10,000 in 2002 to an almost rare 6-per-10,000 in 2006. Meanwhile, with the exception of Arizona, the CDC said, "prevalence among Hispanic children did not change significantly within any of the other10 sites."
For the record, my own affected twins have sixteen different nationalities, including Hispanic, North African and Amerindian as well as European. Regarding the issue of autism within various ethnic communities, when rates were low there were many public discussions of “cultural differences” that could supposedly account for cases being ignored, as if minority parents don’t notice or care when children don’t reach milestones, or that there’s more “cultural acceptance” in some quarters of children who don’t speak, sleep or who exhibit endless raging meltdowns. It should be interesting to hear what the next apologia will be now that rates among the same groups have exploded, and bitterly fascinating to see whether the pop-psych hypothesis of the “autistic killer” receives more media play as a result of the epidemic being racialized, particularly in light of the fact that the theory was founded on arguably racist research. It will also be curious to watch what happens with “investor confidence” in the multi-billion dollar autism drug market now that fresh blood has been thrown into the pool.
What’s also bitterly fascinating—and not mentioned in media coverage of the recent study on high rates of autism among ethnic groups— is that there had also been a radical shift in ethnic and economic demographics regarding vaccine uptake. At one time, for instance, African Americans were the least compliant and most “under-vaccinated”:
Factors That Distinguish Fully Vaccinated Children from Undervaccinated Children (2001 NIS)
These analyses indicated that, compared with fully vaccinated children, undervaccinated children were significantly more likely to be black than Hispanic or non-Hispanic white; younger; or foreign-born than born in the United States. Undervaccinated children were significantly more likely to have a mother who was young; widowed, divorced, or separated than married; had educational attainment that was high school or less than a college degree; and whose preferred language was English than Spanish. Finally, undervaccinated children were significantly more likely to live in a household with an annual income below the poverty level than in a household with an annual income greater than $75 000…
Unfortunately the study above, which was originally accessed in June, 2011, may have been bowdlerized—the title and text altered. In any case, the old link to the 2001 study (Pediatrics) now redirects to a 2004 study which weaves in the updated issue of “unvaccinated” privileged white children whose parents avoid vaccines rather than having reduced access—something not mentioned at all in the 2001 study. The original 2001 title appears only in the citations of other studies at this point.