Autism risk in children rises as parental age increases
by Maria70593 on May 15, 2017 - 10:22pm
The past 9 months of my life have been such an educational, eye-opening experience that I will always cherish and remember because of all it has taught me. Back in September, I began my job as a Teacher's Aide in a classroom of 5-7 year olds with various developmental disabilities. One of these disabilities is Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Autism will always hold a special place in my heart because of the bright and amazing kids I've had the pleasure of working with. Because of this, I wanted my article to focus on ASD.
Many soon-to-be parents are worried about the chance that their child may have Autism. While no direct link to the disorder has been found, my article "Child's Autism Risk Accelerates with Mother's Age Over 30" (http://drexel.edu/now/archive/2014/April/Autism-Risk-Older-Parents/) talks about the risks of having a child with ASD increasing as we age, along with the risks of an intellectual disability.
Previous to this study, It was found that both the mothers and fathers age impact the child's risk, but in different ways. For older mothers, there is an increased risk of having a child with ASD compared to older fathers. Meaning if an older woman decides to have a child with a younger man, the risk for a child with ASD is higher than if an older man decides to have a child with a younger woman. However, this study really just points to a greater question, which Brian K. Lee points out in the article, "...what biological mechanisms underlie these age effects?" The fact that there are differences between men and women's age associated with the risk of having a child ASD, proves that this question needs to be further investigated. Essentially, a father’s risk of having a child with ASD increased linearly with age across their lifespan. Meaning as they got older, the risk of having an Autistic child increases. For women, before they are 30, there is no association with age and ASD. However, after 30, the chance of a child having ASD rose rapidly with the mother's age.
In the study that was done by the researchers at Drexel, a large population of children (417, 303) born in Sweden between 1984 and 2003 were analyzed. This sample was adjusted for many possible factors that could vary with parental age, like family income and parents' psychiatric history. What also made this study unique was that it was one of the firsts to study parental age effects and ASD in more detail. This was also the first ASD sample large enough to study ASD risk in populations with and without intellectual disability. It was found that ASD with intellectual disability had a stronger association with older parents, compared to ASD without intellectual disability.
Because there is still no known cause or early detection of ASD occurring in a child, I have so many questions that cannot yet be answered. One of my questions is if environmental factors can possibly affect either mother or father and result in having a child with ASD (or other developmental disabilities)? In today’s day and age, there are so many new chemicals and medications that many people are exposed to. I feel as though that they can be a cause of many disorders, diseases, and disabilities, but we are not yet aware because many of these chemicals/medications are still so new.
Age is an important indicator of risk at the population level and could one day help researchers find preventable causes of disability, but for a couple who is planning to have a family, age effects are not as significant. The reason for this is that the overall risk for ASD, while higher in older mothers in fathers, still is fairly low. Which leads to my next question... if a child has ASD, how much higher are the odds of having another child who has ASD? Many children that are in my class have siblings with disabilities as well. Could the cause for ASD be more genetic than anything else?
I really believe that the research and studies for Autism are only just beginning, and I am excited to see what the future has in store for discovering causes, medications, cures, etc. with not only ASD, but other developmental disabilities as well. I think we will only improve with our medical capabilities and will continue to make great strides in breaking down and figuring out what these disabilities are all about.