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Keywords:

  • autism;
  • immigration;
  • epidemiology;
  • incidence

Objective

To estimate the risk of developing autism-spectrum disorder (ASD) in children born to immigrants as compared with children of Dutch-born parents.

Method

Retrospective, population-based cohort study of all live births (n = 106 953) between 1998 and 2007 in a circumscribed geographical region in the Netherlands. Cohort members were linked to the Psychiatric Case Register to identify diagnosed cases.

Results

A total of 518 cases of ASD were identified, including 150 children with autism and 368 children with Asperger syndrome or Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS). Children born to migrants from developing countries were at significantly lower risk of ASD [rate ratio (RR) = 0.6, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.5–0.9] than children of Dutch-born parents. Within the ASD group, the risk for the subgroup with Asperger syndrome and PDD-NOS was reduced (RR = 0.4, 95% CI 0.3–0.6), whereas that for narrowly defined autism was non-significantly increased (RR = 1.4, 95% CI 0.9–2.4). Migrant groups did not differ in age at diagnosis.

Conclusion

The results echo Swedish findings indicating a reversal of risk gradient in children of parents from developing countries, specifically a decreased risk for high-functioning and increased risk for low-functioning autism.