Friday, November 4, 2011

Premature Babies Have Higher Risk Of Autism

A brand new study, published in the journal 'Pediatrics', has established that premature babies are five times more likely to have autism compared to babies born at normal weight. Researchers advise they have now established a link between low birth weight and autism.

Autism experts based at America's University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing followed 862 young people over 21 years for the study. Lead author Jennifer Pinto-Martin said: "As survival of the smallest and most immature babies improves impaired survivors represent an increasing public health challenge. Emerging studies suggest that low birth weight may be a risk factor for autism spectrum disorders, known as ASD's."

Links between low birth weights and and cognitive disorders have been confirmed by previous studies. But this latest study, which followed infants born between September 1984 and July 1987, some weighing just a pound at birth, is absolutely the first to establish the link to autism.

Dr Pinto-Martin advises that cognitive problems in children born prematurely may be masking underlying autism, and advises parents or are suspicious of autism, should ask for an evaluation of ASD.

"Early intervention improves long term outcome and can help those children both at school at home," she added. Future studies carried out by the group will look at possible links between brain haemorrhage, a known complication of premature birth, and autism by examining scans taken of the children as newborns.

On evaluating the participants involved in the study who had autism, scientists also discovered they also had an incidental high rate of other psychiatric disorders, such as phobias, or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder by the age of 16.

One in 100 Britons is estimated to be autistic. But just 20 years ago, scientists estimated that fewer than 1 in 1,000 people had the condition, indicating a dramatic increase. The higher rates in recent years have been attributed to various causes, including better detection, as well as genetic and environmental influences.

Scientists have not however, established whether it's being born early that's leading to autism, or whether being born early and having autism share a common risk.

This study backs up an earlier study by researchers at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, which discovered one in four babies born prematurely could be at risk of developing autism.

Despite the findings of this study, the fact remains that the vast majority of children born prematurely do not develop autism. Dr Pinto-Martin is keen that her findings do not alarm parents unnecessarily, stating that "it's not something to worry about, but it's something to pay attention to."

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