Children born to mothers and fathers over age 40 may have a higher risk of developing autism

The number of reported cases of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has been increasing in the last 20 years. ASD includes a range of developmental disorders that are characterized by communication difficulties, social deficits, repetitive behaviors and actions, and in more severe cases cognitive and language delays.

There does not appear to be one specific cause of ASD. Rather, risk factors for ASD include but are not limited to genetic mutations, prenatal conditions (e.g. gestational diabetes), parental age, and possible environmental factors (e.g. allergies, vaccines, exposure to heavy metals, immune system problems) – although the evidence for environmental risk factors has not been reliably confirmed through research studies.

The causes of ASD may in fact be complex, with various factors in combination resulting in ASD. For example, advanced maternal and paternal age is associated with a greater risk of genetic mutations in general – some of which may contribute to ASD. In a large, retrospective Danish study of 9556 children born from 1980 through 2003 who were diagnosed with ASD, researchers found parental age to be associated with higher rates of ASD. Fathers over age 40 were found to have a 37% to 55% greater chance of having a child with ASD compared to fathers under age 35. Mothers over age 40 were found to have a 28% to 65% greater chance of having a child with ASD than mothers under age 35.

Clearly, there is still much to be learned about autism – its causes, symptoms, and treatments.

Read the Danish study abstract here. 

For more general information about autism click here.

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