Premature infants more likely to suffer from autism

October 17th, 2011 - 5:55 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Oct 17 (IANS) Premature infants are five times more likely to suffer from autism than children born at normal weights, scientists say.

Children born between September 1984 and July 1987 in Britain and the US with weights between 500 and 2,000 grams were followed for 21 years for this study.

“Cognitive problems in these children may mask underlying autism,” said Jennifer Pinto-Martin, who led the study, reported the journal Paediatrics, citing a Penn University School of Nursing statement.

“Emerging studies suggest that low birthweight may be a risk factor for autism spectrum disorders,” added Pinto-Martin, director, Centre for Autism and Developmental Disabilities Research and Epidemiology (CADDRE) at the school.

Autism first appears during infancy or childhood, and generally follows a steady course without remission. Its triad of symptoms are impairments in social interaction; impairments in communication; and restricted interests and repetitive behaviour.

Links between low birthweight and a range of cognitive (reasoning) problems have been well established for some time, but this is the first study that establishes that these children are also at increased risk for autism spectrum disorders (ASD).

“If there is suspicion of autism or a positive screening test for ASD, parents should seek an evaluation for an ASD. Early intervention improves long-term outcome and can help these children both at school and at home,” said Pinto-Martin.

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