During the last couple of days, the media have been reporting that, according to a recent study, babies born prematurely (preemies) have a higher incidence of autism. The claim, published in the Journal of Pediatrics, and communcated by lead researcher, Jennifer Pinto-Martin of the University of Pennsylvania, is that five out of every one hundred babies born less than four and a half pounds were eventually diagnosed with autism.
My reaction? Is it the lower birth weight, the fact the babies were premature or some other variable, such as a lack of oxygen, that is the risk? As Dr. Karl Kuban, Chief of Pediatric Neurology at the Boston Medical Centre says: “Is it being born early that’s leading to the problem, or is it that being born early and having autism share a common risk? We don’t know.”
My own son, for example, who is now age 46, was nearly 9 pounds when he was born and nearly two weeks late. Plus, the birth process was traumatic for us both. And, yes, he has an autism spectrum disorder. So, was it the large birth weight, the fact that he was late or the difficult delivery. Or, was it none of the above and genetic? As Dr. Kuban says: “We don’t know.” As though parents of preemies don’t have enough to worry about!!
Endnote: Here is the latest issue of the Journal of Pediatrics which does not show the current study. In fact, even when I searched under the lead researcher’s name, all I could find was an article on this topic dated 1998. However, with a little digging, I was eventually able to find a link via ParentCentral.ca. Here, for example, is the study in question in the Journal of Pediatrics, a submision that was accepted by the Journal on July 20th, 2011.