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Is the risk of autism associated with parental age?

Elise Daumain - July 7th 2015

The largest study about the possible effects of parental and maternal age on Autism Spectrum Disorder was published last month. It confirms, with a very large sample, the recurrent results found by previous studies. These studies suggested an increased risk of ASD with both older maternal and paternal age, but meta-analyses have shown considerable study heterogeneity.

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This international study recruited 5.7 million children, born from 1985 to 2004, from the following countries: Denmark, Israel, Norway, Sweden and Western Australia. Some 30,000 of the participants were children with ASD. The researchers followed them up to the end of 2004–2009, and registered parental ages, sex and birth year for each infant.

The great majority of older parents or parents with a greater age difference between the couple did not have children with ASD, but the study did show that these factors were associated with an increased risk of the condition.

The study found an association between paternal age and an increased risk of ASD of 66% when the father is 50 or more compared to fathers who are aged 20-29.

Concerning the ages of mothers, the same finding has been observed with advancing maternal age (40-49 years) with this time an increased risk of 15%. However, a younger maternal age is also associated with an increased risk of 18% for ASD, which is a slightly greater risk than for older mothers.

To conclude, the lowest risk statistically is for couples with a father in his 30s and a mother in her 20s.

However, this large-scale study was missing some aspects which could influence the results. These included the socio-economic status of the parents, a parental psychiatric history, obstetric complications and others.

This study provides yet more evidence of the effects of maternal and paternal ages on the risk of ASD for the offspring, but further research is required to study the underlying biological mechanisms.

The Nature article can be found here.


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Welcome to ourNews, where we keep up-to-date with research and other news related to infant mental health. These articles can be of interest to both parents and professionals.
We are keen to know your views and so please do comment on our articles.
Is there a topic that you would like us to write about? Just send us a message via 'Contact us'.

ourAdvice, our other blog, has brief posts with advice for parents.

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