Low Birth Weight, Preterm Birth May Increase Autism Risk

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New research suggests that adults born preterm at very low birth weight (VLBW) report higher levels of autism-spectrum disorder (ASD)-related traits that persist into adulthood compared to term-born adults.

Riikka Pyhälä, PhD, of the Institute for Behavioral Sciences at the University of Helsinki, Finland, and colleagues examined participants that took part in the Helsinki Study of Very Low Birth Weight Adults. A total of 110 VLBW adults and 104 adults group-matched for age, birth, hospital, and gender completed the 50 item self-rated Autism Spectrum Quotient. None reported an ASD diagnosis.

VLBW adults scored higher (indicating higher ASD-related traits) on the ASQ’s social interaction sum score and lower on the attention to detail sum score. The groups did not differ in terms of other ASQ scales. In addition, VLBW adults who grew faster in weight from birth to term scored lower on the total and social interaction sum scores and had lower odds of scoring above the intermediate cutoff on the total sum score.

Also, faster growth from term to 1 year of corrected age was not statistically linked to ASQ scores.

"Faster growth from birth to term may ameliorate these effects, suggesting that targeted interventions could aid long-term neurodevelopment," the researchers concluded.

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Low Birth Weight, Preterm Birth May Increase Autism Risk

We examined whether adults born preterm at very low birth weight (VLBW; <3.3 pounds) differ from term-born adults in autism-spectrum traits, and whether among VLBW adults, growth in infancy is associated with these traits.

A total of 110 VLBW and 104 term-born adults of the Helsinki Study of Very Low Birth Weight Adults completed the Autism-Spectrum Quotient yielding total, social interaction, and attention to detail sum scores.

VLBW adults scored higher than term-born controls on social interaction sum score, indicating higher autism-spectrum traits. In contrast, they scored lower on attention to detail sum score, indicating lower autism-spectrum traits. 

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