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Parents with an Autistic kid are less likely to have Children

Update Date: Jun 18, 2014 04:03 PM EDT

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder characterized by a lack of social and communication skills. The condition is typically diagnosed at around the ages of three and four. Even though the condition can be highly manageable, it can also add mental and financial stress for the family. In a new study, researchers discovered that parents with an autistic child were one third less likely to have another kid.

"While it has been postulated that parents who have a child with ASD may be reluctant to have more children, this is first time that anyone has analyzed the question with hard numbers," said senior author of the study, Neil Risch, PhD, a University of California, San Francisco professor of epidemiology and biostatistics and director of the UCSF Institute for Human Genetics. "This study is the first to provide convincing statistical evidence that reproductive stoppage exists and should be taken into account when calculating the risks for having a another child with ASD. These findings have important implications for genetic counseling of affected families."

The researchers analyzed health records within the state of California. There were a total of 19,710 families that had an autistic child who was born anytime from 1990 to 2003. The researchers examined 36,215 other families without autistic children that acted as the control group. Overall, the team discovered that parents whose first child is autistic were one-third less likely to have another baby when compared to the parents from the control families. The team found that parents who had an autistic child after having non-ASD affected children were also one third less likely to have another child.

"Our work shows that not only do people with ASD have fewer children than others...but in families where a child has ASD, the fact that the parents choose to have fewer children means the genes that predispose to ASD are less likely to be passed on to future generations," Risch said in the press release.

The researchers noted that they did not identify why parents of autistic children did not go on to have more kids. They reasoned that parents could be concerned of having another child with ASD.

"Unfortunately, we still don't know what causes autism, or which specific conditions make it more likely," co-author of the study, Lisa Croen, PhD, an epidemiologist and director of the Autism Research Program at Kaiser Permanente Northern California, said. "We are hoping that further research will enable us to identify both effective treatment strategies and, ultimately, modifiable causes of the disorder, so parents won't have to curtail their families for fear of having another affected child."

The study was published in JAMA Psychiatry.

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