Low-Birth Weight Connected to Increased Risk of Autism

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In an interesting twist to a recent popular debate, researchers have found that premature infants with low-birth weight are five times more likely to suffer from autism than children with higher-birth weights.

In an interesting twist to a recent popular debate, researchers have found that premature infants with low-birth weight are five times more likely to suffer from autism than children with higher-birth weights.

Roughly 1 in 110 children are on the autism spectrum, which consist of highly functioning autistic individuals (such as those with Asbergers syndrome) and individuals with lower functionality. Overall, males are four to five times more likely to suffer from autism than females.

The study was government-funded and performed on 862 children born in New Jersey between the years of 1984 and 1987. All children who were followed by the scientists had a birth weight of 4.4 pounds or less.

The children involved in the study were screened for autism at birth, and then were screened again at the ages of two, six, nine, 16, and 21.

When the study was finished, the results showed that 5% of the low-birth weight children had developed autism, in comparison to the 1% of the general population at that time.

These findings may or may not be associated with numerous other studies performed recently on autism and birth, such as the recent study connecting accelerated growth in infants to autism.

The researchers of this current study reported that they believe low-birth weight is connected to cognitive and motor issues, and various early cognitive difficulties observed in these children may be signs of underlying autism.

"The number of children with a diagnosis of autism is on the rise and [we] haven't been able to explain why," reported study author Dr Jennifer Pinto-Martin, director of the Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities Research and Epidemiology at Penn Nursing in Philadelphia. "It's partly a function of awareness and better diagnosis, but we do a better job of keeping tiny babies alive and this may be one consequence of that."

The study authors advised concerned parents of a low birth-weight child to have him or her screened by a doctor at the earliest possible date, as they suggested that screenings are not taking place as early and often as they should.

"Developmental screening is often something that is pushed to the side," said Pinto-Martin. "It's important that we do a really good job of screening every single child….Early intervention improves long-term outcome and can help these children both at school and at home.”

This study was published in the October 17 issue of Pediatrics. The abstract can be found here.

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