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What factors contribute to ASD?

Researchers studied children with ASD across geographical locations, finding the greatest link to risk being genetic factors.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) also known as autism, is a brain development disorder that affects a child’s social skills. ASD is said to have both environmental and genetic origins. In a recent study published in JAMA Network, researchers studied how genetics, environment, and maternal effects contribute to the development of ASD in children. The researchers studied those diagnosed with ASD in the autism research database in five countries, and the consistency of diagnosis factors across those countries. To be eligible for this study, the participants were required to be from a single childbirth, and born in either Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Israel, or Western Australia, between January 1998 and December 2007 (data derived from participants in Israel spanned January 2000 – December 2011) All the data collected from September 2016 to February 2018 regarding the child’s brain development and family linkage were collected for this study and analyzed by the researchers.

About 2,001,631 persons were included in the study, and of that, only 1,027,546 (51.3%) were male. Throughout the study, only 22,156 (1.11%) children were diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Sweden had the most children diagnosed at a total of 10,563, while Israel had 490 children diagnosed with ASD.

The results showed that the overall environment had the least contribution to the risk of developing ASD in Denmark and Sweden. However, in Finland and Western Australia, the overall environment did in fact contribute to the development of ASD. The results also showed about 80% of the population data collected from the five countries, indicates that the diagnoses of ASD is mostly inherited genetic influence. This study had several limitations. One limitation mentioned is the overall sample size of the study. The sample size was limited by the low number of ASD reported in each individual country. This study provides a foundation for future studies on ASD and its leading factors.

Written by Nicole A. Brown, MS

Reference: Bai, D., Yip, B., Windhamd, G. (2019). Association of Genetic and Environmental Factors with Autism in a 5-Country Cohort. JAMA Psychiatry.

Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay

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