Factors That Raise ASD Risk in Infants

Leo Kanner defined autism as an “innate ability to form a normal, biologically determined, emotional connection with others.” This was in 1943, when autism was yet to be categorized as a spectrum disorder. The factors that raise the risk of ASD in infants and toddlers was not yet discovered then, but now, we have a better knowledge regarding the same. The risk of ASD in infants and toddlers can be categorized as:

  • Genetic factors

  • Environmental factors

  • Gene-environment interaction

A few children show signs of ASD as early as infancy. Some signs may include, lack of response to their names, reduced eye contact, and indifference to caregivers. However, this is not common for all children, some might develop naturally for the first couple of months or years, but might suddenly withdraw, lose language skills, become aggressive, etc. These signs are seen by the age of two.

Do you feel that your child may be at risk of developing ASD?

Here are a few factors that raise the risk of ASD in infants/babies:

  • Breech presentation

  • Birth before 35 weeks

  • Low Apgar score

As we know, every child with ASD is unique, therefore the level of severity, and behavior pattern will tend to differ. Some children with ASD may have signs of lower intelligence while some may have difficulty learning. Others may have high intelligence but struggle in communicating and applying their knowledge in everyday situations. Due to this unique mixture of signs and symptoms for each child, it may get difficult to determine the severity of the disorder.

Read More: 10 Things Parents Can Do to Help Their Child With ASD

Genetic Risk Factors:

Genetics definitely play a part in ASD. It tends to run in families. However, it is not easy to pinpoint in terms of genetics as to why they cause ASD. If a child is diagnosed with ASD the chances of his/her sibling to have ASD is high. The same goes with twins, and parents – meaning: if one has ASD the probability of their sibling, and child, respectively, having ASD is high. One study reports that the risk of ASD is higher among children with tuberous sclerosis. In fact, ASD is fairly common, one in 166 people is diagnosed with it.

If you have one child with autism, the risk for the next child is only 2-6%. If autism were due to a single gene, we might expect numbers like 25% or 50%. [1]

Further to the statistic mentioned above, the risk of ASD increases by 35% for the third child. The chances of ASD are low to moderate in families in which no family member is diagnosed with ASD.

Read More: Why is Parent Support Necessary for Long Lasting Benefits of Therapy?

Environmental Risk Factors:

Exposure to heavy metals and other toxins can raise the risk of ASD in infants. Additionally, prescription drugs also raise the risk. If a heavily pregnant woman takes prescription drugs such as valproic acid and thalidomide, the chances of the baby developing the disorder are high.

Researchers are exploring the possible links between certain viral infections and metabolic imbalances and ASD. Children born to older couples are at a greater risk of developing ASD.

Gene-Environment Interaction:

Due to the existence of interactions between environmental factors and genetic background, ASD was suggested for perinatal complications. Based on a study, unaffected siblings had fewer perinatal and prenatal complications. What this suggests is that children with ASD many react differently to the same stimuli and many have a lower tolerance level to the prenatal experience when compared with their siblings.

What this means is that a combination of genetic risk factors and environmental risk factors will drastically increase the chances of ASD in infants.

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