Nutrition and Health Sciences, Department of


Date of this Version



Published in final edited form as: Child Care Health Dev. 2018 November ; 44(6): 916–925.


PMCID: PMC6447086


Copyright John Wiley. Used by permission.


Background: This study aimed to describe parental perceptions of the causes of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in an ethnically diverse sample and explore whether these perceptions relate to treatment choices.

Methods: The sample consisted of White (n=224), Hispanic (n=85) and Asian (n=21) mothers of a child with ASD. A mixed methods approach was used in this secondary analysis focusing on parental perceptions about the causes of ASD and the relationship of these to utilization of services and treatment.

Results: Environmental and genetic factors were most often believed to be the cause or one of the causes of ASD by mothers across all ethnic groups studied. Asian mothers were more likely to cite multiple causes. Environmental causes were associated with receiving 20 or more hours of autism related services per week; while belief in environmental exposures and vaccines and medications as causes were associated with complementary-alternative medicine (CAM) use.

Conclusion: Our findings suggest that ethnic differences in autism causal beliefs and treatment choices may exist. Future research should be conducted to specifically confirm the findings, to understand parental motivation behind their service and treatment choices; and to gain more insight into the types, usage and sources of CAM treatments. Clinicians can use parental autism causal beliefs in discussions about treatment recommendations.