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New Risk Factor for Autism Discovered

Tim Boyer's picture
Risk factors of Autism

Michigan State University researchers have discovered that by examining a low-birth-weight baby’s brain with ultrasound, that a potential risk factor of the child developing autism later in life can be assessed as early as immediately following birth.

According to their study, if the ultrasound examination of the brain reveals enlarged ventricles—the cavities in the brain that stores cerebrospinal fluid—the infant is seven times more likely to develop autism as he or she grows older.

The significance of this finding is two-fold: An early warning of autism allows the parents and health care providers time to initiate early intervention that can significantly lessen the effects of autism on learning and social development. Furthermore, it adds support to the theory that prenatal influences rather than post-natal influences may be the root of developing autism.

According to a press release issued by Michigan State University, lead author Tammy Movsas, clinical assistant professor of pediatrics at MSU and medical director of the Midland County Department of Public Health states that, “For many years there’s been a lot of controversy about whether vaccinations or environmental factors influence the development of autism, and there’s always the question of at what age a child begins to develop the disorder. What this study shows us is that an ultrasound scan within the first few days of life may already be able to detect brain abnormalities that indicate a higher risk of developing autism.”

The study was the result of analysis of cranial ultrasound data recorded from 1,105 low-birth-weight infants during the 1980s to determine the relation of neonatal cranial ultrasound abnormalities to autism spectrum disorders (ASD) in low-birth-weight (LBW) adult survivors today.

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What the data showed was that in comparison to infants born who demonstrated no cranial abnormalities by ultrasound examination, that those with some type of white matter injury―such as ventricular enlargement or lesion―were triple the risk for developing autism. Furthermore, depending on the type of white matter injury, those with ventricular enlargement could have a higher risk of autism by as much as seven-fold.

“This study suggests further research is needed to better understand what it is about loss of white matter that interferes with the neurological processes that determine autism,” says co-author Nigel Paneth quoted in the MSU press release. “This is an important clue to the underlying brain issues in autism.”

The conclusion reached by the authors is that an ultrasound examination in low-birth-weight neonates that shows ventricular enlargement is a strong and significant risk factor for subsequent development of autism.

Follow this link to an informative article about what to look for if you suspect that your infant may be autistic.

Image Source: Courtesy of MorgueFile

Reference: “Autism Spectrum Disorder Is Associated with Ventricular Enlargement in a Low Birth Weight Population” Journal of Pediatrics (13 February 2013); Tammy Z. Movsas, Jennifer A. Pinto-Martin, Agnes H. Whitaker, Judith F. Feldman, John M. Lorenz, Steven J. Korzeniewski, Susan E. Levy, Nigel Paneth.