Preterm babies and/or those with low birth weight have an increased risk for autism spectrum disorders (ASD), according to the findings of a new study conducted by researchers from the University of Pennsylvania. Findings of the study reveal that the prevalence of ASD among low birth weight babies was five times more compared to that of the general population.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the percentage of eight-year-olds with ASD was 0.9 percent across the U.S. in 2006. In comparison, the researchers estimated the prevalence of ASD among 1,100 low birth weight babies to be 5 percent. The researchers wrote in Pediatrics’ November issue, “This prospective study, using rigorous diagnostic procedures, confirms that the rate of autism spectrum disorders is elevated among low birth weight/preterm survivors.”
In the U.S., approximately 3 percent of babies are born prematurely and underweight, with weights ranging from 1.1 to 4.4 pounds at birth. Numerous studies have associated low birth weight with an increased risk for poor/impaired cognitive and motor skills development. Until now, only retrospective studies and screenings that have not been confirmed by medical diagnosis have been able to link ASD with premature birth and low birth weight.
The researchers found that among the 1,105 premature and low birth weight infants from three hospitals in three counties in New Jersey: 9.9 percent of boys with low birth weight also had ASD compared to 3.3 percent of girls with low birth weight; the prevalence of ASD among babies who weighed less than 3.3 pounds at birth was 10.6 percent and those who weight between 3.3 an 4.4 pounds at birth had a prevalence of only 3.7 percent.