Parental Age, Birth Weight, and Autism Spectrum Disorders

  • Esther Ben-Itzchak
  • Ditza A. Zachor


The dramatic increase in ASD diagnosis in recent years cannot be solely explained by broadening of the diagnostic concept. In addition, despite the strong genetic origin, the exact cause of ASD is still unknown. It is therefore suggested that nonheritable prenatal and perinatal events may be risk factors for ASD.

Most of the studies that examined advanced paternal age as a risk factor found an increased risk for ASD with increasing paternal age. Several studies described maternal age as a risk factor for ASD as well, but results are more conflicting between studies. The biological mechanisms underlying the relationship between advanced parental ages and autism are still unknown. The increased risk for ASD in older fathers supports the hypothesis of increasing de novo mutations with age. The independent effect of maternal age may point to increased prevalence of chromosomal aberrations or to increased rate of pregnancy complications in older mothers. Other explanations to the relations of advanced parental age and ASD are discussed.

Low birth weight with or without prematurity is a risk factor for many neurodevelopmental disorders, including cerebral palsy and mental retardation. Inconsistent results were documented regarding low birth weight (<2,500 g) and very low birth weight (<1,500 g) as risk factors for ASD. The association between ASD and LBW might be mediated by several prenatal or neonatal factors, such as maternal age and health conditions, nutrition deficits hypoxia, and other obstetrical insults that were described in association with prematurity and LBW.

Another important question is whether these risk factors are related to the clinical phenotype in ASD. Regarding parental age, although it might be a risk factor for ASD, it was not related to the severity of ASD symptoms or to the adaptive functioning. Regarding LBW, children with ASD who had a history of very low birth weight (<1,500 g.) did show more deficits in adaptive skills but not in autism symptoms severity in comparison to those without a history of poor fetal growth. More research is needed to examine the relation between environmental risk factors, ASD, and clinical phenotypes.


Autism Spectrum Disorder Autism Spectrum Disorder Asperger Syndrome Autism Spectrum Disorder Symptom Adaptive Skill 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Communication DisordersAriel UniversityArielIsrael
  2. 2.The Autism CenterAssaf Harofeh Medical CenterZerifinIsrael

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