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Risk for autism increases for abandoned children

February 2, 2015

A recent study published in the February 2015 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (JAACAP) demonstrates that children who were abandoned to institutional care have an increased risk for behaviors similar to those seen in children with autism, including impaired social communication.

These behaviors improved with an early intervention of quality foster care.

For the study, researchers collected data from 117 children at 10 years of age. Each child’s primary caregiver filled out the Social Communication Questionnaire (SCQ), which assesses for symptoms associated with autism, including social communication skills. Children with concern for possible autism were then referred for a full neurodevelopmental evaluation to determine whether they met the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) criteria for autism.

Five children with a history of institutional care (three in the institutional care as usual group and two in the foster care group) met the DSM diagnostic criteria for autism spectrum disorder. In a comparison group of 100 age-matched, never-institutionalized children living in Bucharest, Romania, no child met criteria for autism spectrum disorder. Based on SCQ scores, children in the foster care group were identified as having more typical social behaviors compared to children in the institutional care as usual group.

The authors strongly emphasize that in the vast majority of autism cases in the general population, children are raised in caring families, and psychosocial deprivation plays no role. “Although the institutionalized children with autism resemble children with autism in the general population, the origins of their symptoms are very different,” says Charles A. Nelson PhD of Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, who is senior author on the paper. “We believe that both groups suffer deprivation, but of different types: In institutionalized children, the deprivation comes from their environment, while in the general population, the autism itself causes a kind of deprivation, making it harder for children to perceive and understand social cues.”

Full text of the study can be found in the JAACAP’s February 2015 issue – http://www.jaacap.com/

Article credit: www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/02/150202123714.htm