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Smaller and Premature Born Babies at Higher Risk of Autism: Study

Update Date: Jul 01, 2012 05:39 PM EDT

A latest study from Finland claims that babies that are born smaller are at a slight risk of developing autism.

The research has been conducted as a part of a drive to identify the cause behind the developmental disorder which has been existing for years and has been on a rise recently.

"Previous reports of how birth weight or gestational age is associated with autism have not been consistent," Dr. Andre Sourander, a psychiatrist at Turku University, told Reuters Health by email.

"Because autism spectrum disorders are one of the major challenges in child mental health it is extremely important to get more understanding of its causes," Sourander said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Autism spectrum disorders, which range from mild Asperger syndrome to severe mental retardation and social disability in childhood autism, are diagnosed in about one in 88 children in the U.S., reports Health Day.

The current research is based on a study of almost 20 years of data from more than one million births in Finland.

The researchers considered factors such as the mother's age, smoking habits, number of previous deliveries etc in assessing the risk of a baby contracting the disorder. They found that premature infants and babies born smaller were at three times higher risk of developing autism, but not Asperger's syndrome.

Sourander said that since autism is relatively rare most children who are smaller at birth do not contract the disorder.

It is unclear as to why some children end up with develop autism spectrum disorders. Scientists believe that that the cause could lie in an interplay between genes and environment and other factors and complications that arise during pregnancy.

The study was published in the Journal of Pediatrics.

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