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Researchers find link between autism and high socioeconomic status

A new study suggests the risk of autism is more likely in higher socioeconomic status.

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Credit: University of Massachusetts Lowell

According to a new study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, children of lower-income backgrounds were less likely to be diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

A team of researchers, led by Maureen Durkin of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Waisman Center, examined health care and education data of 1.3 million children — aged 8 — from a CDC-based surveillance program. This data was then mixed with U.S. Census measures of socioeconomic status, in which median household incomes and college education were studied.

Researchers analyzed data in numerous states within the US including Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Maryland, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, Utah, and Wisconsin.

Throughout the study, between 2002 to 2010, researchers noticed that the overall prevalence of ASD increased significantly, more than double, compared to when the research began.

“We wanted to see if part of this increase in ASD prevalence was because advances in screening techniques and medical training meant more children from disadvantaged backgrounds were gaining access to ASD diagnoses and services,” said Durkin, one of the lead researchers.

“It doesn’t seem that’s the case,” researchers concluded.

The findings suggested that children living in lower socioeconomic development, with fewer bachelor’s degrees, were less likely to be diagnosed with an ASD, compared to those who came from more prosperous households.

“Population-based studies of the prevalence of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in the United States have reported notable differences among selected racial and ethnic groups, with prevalence generally found to be higher among non-Hispanic White children relative to both non-Hispanic Black and Hispanic children,” the study reads.

“The US findings of racial/ethnic and socioeconomic variation in prevalence suggest potential underascertainment of ASD in economically disadvantaged groups, and raise the question of whether the ongoing racial and ethnic disparities in ASD prevalence are confounded by SES.”

The results of the study shouldn’t be perceived as proof that high socioeconomic status causes autism, but should be regarded as a possible scenario.

One crucial factor, in particular, researchers noted is that the findings suggest poorer areas are less likely to be diagnosed with an ASD due to limited access to health care providers who could make the diagnosis and initiate treatment.

1 in 68 children is diagnosed with an ASD in the US. About 1 percent of the world population has an ASD, according to CDC data.

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