Child’s Autism Risk Accelerates With Mother’s Age Older parents are more likely to have a child who develops an autism spectrum disorder than are younger parents, according to a study published in the February 2014 issue of the International Journal of Epidemiology. The study provides more insight into how the risk associated with parental age varies between ... Research in Brief
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Research in Brief  |   August 01, 2014
Child’s Autism Risk Accelerates With Mother’s Age
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Special Populations / Autism Spectrum / Research in Brief
Research in Brief   |   August 01, 2014
Child’s Autism Risk Accelerates With Mother’s Age
The ASHA Leader, August 2014, Vol. 19, 18. doi:10.1044/leader.RIB1.19082014.18
The ASHA Leader, August 2014, Vol. 19, 18. doi:10.1044/leader.RIB1.19082014.18
Older parents are more likely to have a child who develops an autism spectrum disorder than are younger parents, according to a study published in the February 2014 issue of the International Journal of Epidemiology. The study provides more insight into how the risk associated with parental age varies between mothers’ and fathers’ ages, and found that the risk of having a child with both ASD and intellectual disability is greater for older parents.
In the study, conducted by researchers from the Drexel University School of Public Health in Philadelphia and Karolinska Institute in Sweden, fathers’ and mothers’ advancing ages have different impacts on their child’s risk. The rise in ASD risk with parental age was greater for older mothers as compared to older fathers.
For this study, lead author Brian K. Lee—an assistant professor in the Drexel University School of Public Health and research fellow of the A. J. Drexel Autism Institute—and colleagues analyzed a large population registry sample of 417,303 children born in Sweden between 1984 and 2003, adjusted for possible factors that could vary with parental age and also influence risk, such as family income and each parent’s psychiatric history. The study used a particularly comprehensive case-finding approach, based on all pathways to care in a socialized health system, to identify more ASD cases than other studies might.
A goal was to study these parental age effects in more detail by looking at possible differing risks of ASD with and without intellectual disability—one of the most serious comorbid diagnoses with ASD. This was the first population-based study with an ASD sample large enough to study ASD risk in populations of children with and without intellectual disability.
The risk of having a child with ASD had a more complicated relationship to age in women than in men—whose risk of fathering a child with ASD increased linearly with age across their lifespans. Among women giving birth before the age of 30, the risk of ASD in the child showed no association with age—it was simply very low. But for babies born to mothers ages 30 and older, the chance of developing ASD rose rapidly with the mother’s age.
Multiple mechanisms could account for the different patterns of risk, including environmental risk factors occurring in women after age 30. Factors such as complications in pregnancy could also exacerbate effects of a mother’s age on a child’s ASD risk. Also, the linear, steady increase in risk associated with fathers’ ages is consistent with the hypothesis of increased genomic alterations over the father’s lifespan that can increase risk of ASD, Lee says.
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August 2014
Volume 19, Issue 8