Age of mother affects child's autism risk: study

Mon Feb 8, 2010 5:35pm EST
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By Julie Steenhuysen

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Being an older mother significantly increases the risk of having a child with autism, but being an older father only increases the risk when the mother is under the age of 30, U.S. researchers said on Monday.

They found that a 40-year-old woman's risk of having a child later diagnosed with autism was 50 percent greater than that of a woman between 25 and 29.

But being an older father -- 40 or older -- only contributes significantly to autism risk when the mother is under 30.

"The older the mother, the more the risk that the child will develop autism, regardless of whether the father is young or old," said Irva Hertz-Picciotto of the University of California Davis MIND Institute, who worked on the study published in the journal Autism Research.

The findings contradict a 2006 study of children born in Israel that suggested paternal age played a much larger role.

"There has been a debate over whether it is maternal or paternal risk. A lot of people were thinking it's not really mom's age," Hertz-Picciotto said in a telephone interview.

Researchers and policymakers are increasingly looking for causes to explain the growing numbers of children diagnosed with autism, which affects 1 percent of U.S. children.

There is no cure for autism, a spectrum of diseases ranging from severe and profound inability to communicate and mental retardation to relatively mild symptoms such as with Asperger's syndrome.   Continued...