The Risk of Neurodevelopmental Disabilities in Children of Immigrant and Refugee Parents: Current Knowledge and Directions for Future Research

  • Ifrah Abdullahi
  • Helen Leonard
  • Sarah Cherian
  • Raewyn Mutch
  • Emma J. Glasson
  • Nicholas de Klerk
  • Jenny DownsEmail author
Review Paper


This paper systematically reviewed the literature from 2002 to 2016 describing the risks of autism spectrum disorder, intellectual disability and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children of immigrant and refugee backgrounds. Compared to children of non-immigrant mothers, 10 studies found increased risk of autism and intellectual disability and four studies found increased risk of autism without identifying concomitant intellectual disability. Very high risks were observed if the mother’s country of birth was a developing country or region. One study found higher risk of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in a sample of children who were refugees. Children of immigrant and refugee backgrounds from developing countries had greater risks of a neurodevelopmental disorder compared to their peers whose mother was locally born.


Neurodevelopment Disability Immigrant Refugee Children 



The authors would like to thank the Developmental Pathways Project at Telethon Kids Institute, Perth, Western Australia, for their support and funding of this study and her Ph.D.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

This work was conducted as part of PhD study and the first author received a PhD scholarship from the Developmental Pathways Project, Telethon Kids Institute, Perth.

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

This article does not contain any studies with human participants performed by any of the authors.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ifrah Abdullahi
    • 1
    • 2
  • Helen Leonard
    • 1
  • Sarah Cherian
    • 2
    • 3
  • Raewyn Mutch
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Emma J. Glasson
    • 1
  • Nicholas de Klerk
    • 1
  • Jenny Downs
    • 1
    • 4
    Email author
  1. 1.Telethon Kids InstituteThe University of Western AustraliaWest PerthAustralia
  2. 2.School of Paediatrics and Child Health, Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health SciencesThe University of Western AustraliaPerthAustralia
  3. 3.Department of General PaediatricsPerth Children’s HosptialPerthAustralia
  4. 4.School of Physiotherapy and Exercise ScienceCurtin UniversityPerthAustralia

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