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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter July 14, 2020

Autism spectrum disorder in the United Arab Emirates: potential environmental links

  • Samuel Virolainen , Wejdan Hussien and Sarah Dalibalta EMAIL logo


Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has been experiencing an increase in global prevalence in recent decades. While many factors could account for this reality, certain environmental links have been shown to contribute to ASD development and etiology. The Middle East has had relatively little published research on ASD etiology although statistics indicate that ASD affects 1 in 146 births in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). This review therefore aims to examine potential causes of ASD within the UAE specifically, focusing on environmental links that may contribute to the rise in ASD cases in this population. Significantly, suboptimal breastfeeding practices, high levels of vitamin D deficiency, increased exposure to pollution, pesticides and heavy metals within the UAE may all be potentially important contributing factors to ASD in this population. Our findings support the notion that there are key links between various environmental factors and ASD prevalence in the UAE. The lack of knowledge and much research on ASD within the UAE deeply necessitates further studies on its etiology as it poses a serious public health challenge in the region and globally.

Corresponding author: Sarah Dalibalta, Department of Biology, Chemistry & Environmental Sciences, American University of Sharjah, P.O. Box 26666, Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, Phone: +971 65154421, Fax.: +971 65152450, E-mail:

  1. Research funding: Authors state no funding involved.

  2. Competing interests: Authors state no conflict of interest.

  3. Informed consent: Informed consent is not applicable.

  4. Ethical approval: The conducted research is not related to either human or animal use.


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Received: 2020-02-24
Accepted: 2020-06-04
Published Online: 2020-07-14
Published in Print: 2020-11-18

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