Children with autism from certain backgrounds are more likely to develop typically before suddenly losing critical skills like speech and the ability to make eye contact, researchers say.

The phenomenon known as developmental regression is twice as common in black children and occurs 50 percent more often in Hispanics as compared to white kids, according to findings scheduled to be presented Tuesday at the Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia.

For the study, researchers looked at data on 1,353 kids ages 3 to 6 with autism who participated in the Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network — a group of 17 coordinated-care centers across the United States and Canada — between March 2008 and December 2011.

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Overall, parents of 27 percent of children reported that their kids had regressed, but stark differences along racial and ethnic lines persisted in the data even when researchers controlled for insurance status and the education level of the child’s caretaker, the study found.

“Lost skills are very difficult to recover,” said the study’s lead author, Adiaha Spinks-Franklin of the Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston. “Evidence suggests that African-American and Hispanic children are often diagnosed with autism at later ages than white children and have less access to services. Our research shows there is one more important factor that contributes to the developmental outcomes of African-American and Hispanic children with autism.”

Researchers said it is particularly important for health care providers to be aware that children in certain demographic groups may be at increased risk of regressing in order to ensure that affected kids receive early intervention as soon as possible. What’s more, they said parents should have their children evaluated by a physician immediately if they are concerned about any loss of skills.

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