Results from a study published last year in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders suggest that a more immediate type of environmental exposure could be another factor that increases autism risk.6 Researchers found that women who were prescribed selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) during pregnancy had approximately twice the odds of having a child with ASD compared to those who did not take SSRIs, and the association increased the longer the women had used the SSRI.

“Our analyses suggest that there is an independent association of in utero exposure to SSRIs on the risk for ASD,” study co-author Nicole Gidaya, PhD, of Drexel University told Psychiatry Advisor. “Although associations between maternal depression and developmental psychopathology in early children have been widely reported, our analyses suggest that maternal depression does not explain the observed association.”

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She says further attention should be directed toward understanding how gestational SSRI use might affect early brain development, in which serotonin has been shown to play an important role. “There is still a need for more population studies of possible associations between maternal SSRI use and autism, in light of the limitations of the present study and the conflicting results within the field’s previous studies of the question.”

Tori Rodriguez, MA, LPC, is a psychotherapist and freelancer writer based in Atlanta.


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  2. Shelton JF, et al. Neurodevelopmental disorders and prenatal residential proximity to agricultural pesticides: the CHARGE study. Environmental Health Perspectives. 2014; 122(10):1103-9.
  3. Raz R, et al. Autism spectrum disorder and particulate matter air pollution before, during, and after pregnancy: a nested case-control analysis within the Nurses’ Health Study II Cohort. Environmental Health Perspectives. 2015; 123(3):264-70.
  4. United States Environmental Protection Agency. Particulate Matter: Frequent Questions. Retrieved on April 21, 2015 from
  5. Volk HE, et al. Traffic-related air pollution, particulate matter, and autism. JAMA Psychiatry. 2013; 70(1):71-7.
  6. Gidaya NB, et al. In utero exposure to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and risk for autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. 2014; 44(10):2558-67.