Monday 24 November 2014

Finland, parental migration and offspring Asperger syndrome

A quote from the paper by Venla Lehti and colleagues [1] to start things off: "The study showed that children whose parents are both immigrants have a significantly lower likelihood of being diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome than those with two Finnish parents."
Can I cook, or can't I?

Based on an analysis of data derived from "the Finnish Hospital Discharge Register" and "the Finnish Medical Birth Register", researchers looked at the records of children with a diagnosis of Asperger syndrome (AS) born between 1987-2005 (n=1783) to ascertain "maternal and paternal immigration" status including mother language spoken. Compared with over 7000 control participants they found that there was indeed something significant to see when it came to parental origins and in particular when mothers and/or fathers were "born in Sub-Saharan Africa".

This is intriguing data. The fact that authors looked at the diagnosis of AS and, by diagnostic criteria, those positioned at a specific point on the autism spectrum with symptoms not normally accompanied by the presence of learning disability (intellectual disability) and fewer issues with spoken language, is important. Previous research by this same group [2] also discussed on this blog (see here) had indicated that "the risk of childhood autism was increased for those whose parents are both immigrants" compared to having two Finnish parents based on the same data registries. The contrast with the more recent data reporting that parental migration status might be protective against receipt of a diagnosis of AS compared with non-immigration status is stark.

That being said, we have seen other hints that when an offspring diagnosis on the autism spectrum is received where parents are immigrants from certain parts of the world to certain other parts of the world, there is a greater tendency towards autism plus learning disability to be present. I've covered it a few times on this blog (see here for example based on data from Sweden). The chatter a while back about the Somali population living in Minneapolis also came to something of a similar conclusion (see here).

The growing idea that autism might be better reflected as a plural condition - 'the autisms' - over and above the singular definition currently being applied to cover some significant heterogeneity across presentation, potentially receives some valuable support from research such as this. Obviously, one has to tread carefully if and when labelling a type of autism potentially linked to something like immigrant status so as not to stereotype or fuel some viewpoints. That being said, there are perhaps quite a few studies to do comparing autism in immigrant children vs. non-immigrant autism presentation which might yet provide some valuable information to autism research in general.

Music then: Taylor Swift - We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together. Although another band did talk about something similar a few years earlier: Beautiful South - A Little Time (and with a much better video).


[1] Lehti V. et al. Parental migration and Asperger's syndrome. Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2014 Nov 8.

[2] Lehti V. et al. The risk of childhood autism among second-generation migrants in Finland: a case-control study. BMC Pediatr. 2013 Oct 19;13:171.

---------- Lehti V, Cheslack-Postava K, Gissler M, Hinkka-Yli-Salomäki S, Brown AS, & Sourander A (2014). Parental migration and Asperger's syndrome. European child & adolescent psychiatry PMID: 25381114

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