Low Birth Weight Ups Risk Of Autism
October 17, 2011

Low Birth Weight Ups Risk Of Autism

University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing researchers have found a link between low birth weight and children diagnosed with autism.

The researchers found that premature infants are five times more likely to have autism than children born at normal weight.

The 862 children in the study were followed for 21 years after being born with a maximum birth weight of 4.4 pounds in New Jersey from September 1984 through July 1987.

"As survival of the smallest and most immature babies improves, impaired survivors represent an increasing public health challenge," lead author Jennifer Pinto-Martin, MPH, PhD, director of the Center Centers for Autism and Developmental Disabilities Research and Epidemiology (CADDRE) at Penn Nursing, wrote in the journal Pediatrics. "Emerging studies suggest that low birth weight may be a risk factor for autism spectrum disorders."

Five percent of the children in the study were diagnosed with autism, compared to one percent of the general population.

The $3 million study is the first to find a link between low birth weight and an increased risk in developing autism spectrum disorders (ASD).

"Cognitive problems in these children may mask underlying autism," Dr. Pinto-Martin said in the report. "If there is suspicion of autism or a positive screening test for ASD, parents should seek an evaluation for an ASD. Early intervention improves long-term outcome and can help these children both at school and at home."

The researchers plan to investigate possible links between brain hemorrhage, a complication of premature birth, and autism by examining brain ultrasounds in future studies.


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