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Autism Spectrum Disorders Health Center

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What Raises a Baby's Risk of Autism?

Study Flags Possible Associations From Parents, Pregnancy, Birth
WebMD Health News

May 18, 2005 -- Pregnancy factors, parental psychiatric history, and preterm delivery may be associated with an increased risk of autism, says a study in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

Here are the potential associations noted in the study:

  • Breech presentation of the baby
  • Low Apgar score, an index used to evaluate the condition of a newborn five minutes after birth
  • Birth before 35 weeks of pregnancy
  • Parental history of schizophrenia-like psychosis
  • Parental history of affective disorder, which includes some psychoses, depression, and bipolar disorder

However, those traits are not presented as definite causes of autism or as the only possible risk factors for the condition. Of course, not all babies born under those circumstances have autism or related disorders.

'Possible Associations' Noted

"Right now, we have only identified possible associations," says CDC epidemiologist Diana Schendel, PhD, in a news release. "But if we can find a cause-and-effect relationship, it may help our efforts to prevent autism." Schendel worked on the study with other experts.

It's not known how those characteristics might interact with autism risk.

About Autism

Autism spectrum disorders are a group of developmental disabilities that are caused by unusual brain development, says the CDC's Autism Information Center. Some studies have shown that a rapid and excessive growth in head size during the first year of life may be an early indictor of autism.

The spectrum includes autistic disorder (infantile autism), pervasive developmental disorder, and Asperger's syndrome.

People with autism spectrum disorders tend to have problems with social and communication skills, and many have unusual ways of learning, paying attention, or reacting to different sensations, says the CDC.

The cause of autism spectrum disorders is not known. Studies on twins and families suggest that genetics may play a substantial role, the new study shows.

Autism Statistics

The study says between two and six per 1,000 children have autistic spectrum disorder, while autism specifically affects up to two per 1,000 children.

More children than ever before are classified with autism spectrum disorders. It's not clear if that's due to changes in identification or a true increase in the rates of the disease, says the CDC.

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