New Study Suggests Link of Autism with Babies Born Prematurely

imagesResearchers in Sweden have released results from a study that suggests babies that are born prematurely have a much higher risk of developing autism, compared to children born at full term. Researchers from Karolinska Institute and Karolinska University Hospital have released their findings to the journal Cerebral Cortex, stating that a significant number of premature babies have been shown to display signals of autism later in childhood, sometimes showing signs as early as one month after birth (the neonate period).

According to the study, babies that are born 13 weeks or more prior to their due date run higher risks of autism, as well as ADHD, brain damage, and learning disabilities. This is due to the fact that they brain is still in a critical stage of development, and once born, the child is exposed to a numerous number of stress factors that can cause complications.

The researchers examined over one-hundred babies born before week 27 (the mark of the third trimester). They used magnetic resonance imaging during the first month of the child being born, screening them for signals of autism up until the age of six. Dr. Ulrika Aden, researcher at Karolinska Institute, states, “We were surprised by how many, almost 30 percent, of the extremely preterm-born children, had developed ASD symptoms. Amongst children born after full term pregnancy, the corresponding figure is 1 percent.”

Within their findings, the researchers discovered that it was more common in the group of children who had developed ASD for there to have been complications during the neonate period, such as surgery, than it was amongst premature babies that did not develop ASD. Researchers were able to detect signs of ASD as early as the neonate period, with limited growth in areas of the brain that focused on social contact, empathy, and language abilities. Delays in these specific areas are commonly associated with children with autism.

With many studies supporting the fact that autism is not linked to a specific gene, this new study supports the findings that genetic factors, environment, and complications at birth can be linked to autism development. Dr. Aden states, “The brain grows best in the womb, and if the developmental environment changes too early to a life, it can disrupt the organization of cerebral networks. With new therapeutic regimes to stimulate the development of such babies and avoid stress, maybe we can reduce the risk of their developing ASD.”

Written By Erica Polis

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