Dr. M. Florencia Ricci

Exploring the association between autism spectrum disorder and immigration in Manitoba, a population-based approach

Given the significant and rapid increase in the number of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), studies are needed to understand what factors could be contributing to this rise. A possible association between ASD and immigration has been studied in many countries, but not in Canada.

Concerned about a potential link between immigration and ASD in Manitoba, we recently completed a study that showed an over representation of immigrant families among children who were diagnosed with ASD at the primary site for evaluation of ASD in Manitoba. Since the information used for this study was taken retrospectively, we found limited information on immigration characteristics, family composition factors and educational outcomes.

We are now aiming to link our ASD data to the Manitoba Population Data Repository, which contains health, education, and sociodemographic (including immigration) data from all Manitoba residents. Using the Manitoba Population Data Repository, we will determine provincial-level differences in the number of ASD diagnosis between Manitoba children who belong to immigrants versus non-immigrants families. We will also compare demographic characteristics and the presence of associated medical diagnosis as well as kindergarten-readiness between them.

This will be the first study that looks at a possible link between immigration and ASD at a provincial level in Canada. We hope this work leads to a better understanding of how and what aspects of parental immigration may increase vulnerability to ASD so that interventions can be targeted to at-risk communities in our province.