Wednesday 14 August 2013

More Science for Autism

It's a science-y kind of week for autism.  Must be a slow news week, or maybe pre-September is the equivalent of sweeps for academic research.

A study at Duke University has looked at over 600 000 births in North Carolina and found a correlation between inducing labour and autism diagnosis.  Now before anyone gets too excited, correlation does not mean cause.  One might be a cause of the other or they might both be caused by something else.

Of the 600 000 births, over 170 000 had labour induced or hastened and 5 648 children developed autism.  Not all were induced or hastened but 35 % of the total of autistic boys were the result of induced labour, compared with 29 % of the neurotypical boys.

Not a huge percentage to hang a conclusion on but certainly worth examining further to see if families with genetic autism are more likely to have difficult births or pregnancies.  Or to see if there is something else which might predict which children have both autism and a difficult womb-period.

The study was done to see if a large scale study could replicate the results of some smaller studies which have found links with high-risk pregnancies and autism.  The lead author, Simon Gregory, was very clear that he didn't think this study should discourage doctors from inducing labour since this is often a life-saving technique for both mother and infant.

(And in a slightly morbid frame of mind, I find myself wondering if this is yet another reason why rates of autism have increased.  Could a significant percentage of stillbirths from earlier eras have been the "missing" autistic children?  There's no way to find out but it does make me wonder.)

For myself, one of my pregnancies ended in an emergency C-section while the other proceeded fairly well.  I had high blood pressure for both which made me "high risk" but both of my children were indisputably healthy after birth.

If the correlation holds true, then pediatricians should be monitoring induced children for a higher risk of autism.  Of course, that still leaves 65 % of cases without a such a correlation to explain but anything which can help us catch the diagnosis earlier is a good thing in my book.

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