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Autism and smoking during pregnancy: Is there a link?

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
A new study again suggests smoking during pregnancy and autism link.

As researchers try to put the pieces of a puzzle together about what causes autism, one study finds a possible link between the disorder and smoking during pregnancy. Though the finding doesn’t show cause, there is a suggestion that women who smoke during pregnancy are more likely to have a child with autism spectrum disorder.

The finding specifically links smoking during pregnancy with a higher chance of having a child with high-functioning autism such as Asperger’s disorder, according to preliminary findings from a study by researchers involved in the U.S. autism surveillance program of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Environmental causes for autism?

Amy Kalkbrenner, assistant professor in the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Joseph J. Zilber School of Public Health, lead author of the study said in a press release “What we are seeing is that some disorders on the autism spectrum, more than others, may be influenced by a factor such as whether a mother smokes during pregnancy.”

Kalkbrenner says autism disorder is a broad term that includes a variety of disorders affecting communication and social skills.

For the study, published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, the researchers extracted data from birth certificates that included smoking during pregnancy, and then compared autism rates.

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The data, which came from the CDC’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network (ADDMN), identified 3,315 children with an autism spectrum disorder at age 8; born in 1992, 1994, 1996 and 1998, from 11 states.

Researchers are exploring possible environmental links to autism, and the current study may offer more clues about what combination of factors might contribute to the disorder. April is autism awareness month and several articles have been published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, one of which explores pesticides as a contributor to autism spectrum disorder. Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB’s) are found in one study to interfere with early brain development by interrupting brain neuron signaling pathways.

“The CDC recently released data indicating that 1 in 88 children has an autism spectrum disorder, making such environmental studies even more timely,” Kalkbrenner wrote in a news release. She adds, the study doesn’t say for certain there is an association between smoking during pregnancy and autism. Findings from studies have been conflicting and more research is needed.

Women who smoke during pregnancy are at increased risk for premature delivery, having an infant with birth defects such as cleft lip and palate and low birth weight, according to the March of Dimes.

UVM News
April 25, 2012

Image credit: Morguefile