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Birth Weight could be another Risk for Autism

Update Date: May 01, 2013 03:28 PM EDT

Previous researchers have looked into ways of discovering early indicators of autism, which is usually diagnosed at the around the age of three. Since treating autism, a disorder involving social impairments and communication difficulties, involves behavioral training and modifications, intervention at the earliest possible time is vital in dealing with this condition. Recent studies have suggested that the number of placental folds could mean higher risk for the disorder, while other studies have found that using social rewards can help treat the condition in infants. The general goal for these researchers is to find the best possible way to diagnose and treat toddlers with this condition. In a new study, researchers concluded that an infant's rate of growth within the womb can indicate the baby's risk for autism.

The researchers from the University of Manchester conducted one of the largest studies on fetal growth and its link to autism. Headed by Professor Kathryn Abel, from the University's Center for Women's Mental Health and Institute of Brain, Behavior and Mental Health, the research team looked at the medical records of 589,114 children taken from the Stockholm Youth Cohort. The children were between the ages of zero and 17 from 2001 to 2007. The researchers removed information on adopted children, non-Swedish or Stockholm county residents, children born outside of Sweden, twins, and children too young to be diagnosed with the disorder. After the sample was reduced, the researchers discovered that 4,283 children had autism. These children also tended to have been born at either birth weight extreme.  Infants who were born heavier than nine pounds and 14 ounces and lighter than five pounds and five ounces had a higher incidence of autism. The researchers also reported that babies who had poor fetal growth have a 63 percent increased chance of having autism as well.

"We think that his increase in risk associated with extreme abnormal growth of the fetus shows that something is going wrong during development, possibly with the function of the placenta," Abel explained.

The research team stated that doing more research will be important to understanding how birth weights affect autism risk. However, this finding suggests that the link between fetal growth and risk for autism is strong.

 "To our knowledge, this is the first large prospective population-based study to describe the association between the degree of deviance in fetal growth from the normal average in a population of children and risk of ASD with and without intellectual disability. We have shown for the first time categorically that abnormal fetal growth in both directions increases risk of autism spectrum disorder," Abel stated.

The study was published in The American journal of Psychiatry

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