Women Abused as Children More Likely to Have an Autistic Child?

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So, a year ago now I used to work for an online magazine … that now unfortunately doesn’t seem to be going anywhere as everyone’s stopped writing and the main moderator has moved on to greater pastures!

I found a study based an Autism that I found quite interesting. So I thought I’d post it here and see what you all thought! For anyone wondering, this study was done around March 2013.

The results of a recent study are the first to suggest a trans-generational contributor to the developmental disorder.

Women in the study who reported physical, emotional, or sexual abuse when they were young were more likely to have a child with autism compared to women who were not abused. The more severely the women were abused, the higher their chances of having a child with autism; compared to women who were not abused, those who endured the most serious mistreatment were 60% as likely to have an autistic child.

Because it’s possible that a mother’s exposure to abuse as a child could also lead her to engage in behaviors associated with harming the fetus — such as smoking, drinking during pregnancy, using drugs, being overweight, having preterm labor or giving birth to a premature or low birth weight baby — the scientists also calculated how much these factors contributed to the risk of ASD in the next generation. To their surprise, these conditions explained only 7% of the heightened risk among the abused women. That meant that abuse was exerting more lasting effects on the women’s bodies that were translating into an increased risk of autism in their children.

Researchers believe some of the lifestyle circumstances associated with abuse, such as poor nutrition, could be responsible for some of the association. It’s also possible that abuse causes biological changes in a woman’s immune system, like a distruption of the stress responses, that could lead to harmful effects on a developing fetus. Studies have shown that autistic children showed abnormal stress responses, and it’s possible that a mother’s altered stress reaction could be passed on to her child. “Maternal inflammation affects the developing brain, and maternal inflammation and immune function have been hypothesized to be causes of autism,” wrote the researchers.

The researchers also speculate that childhood abuse can leave women in a state of chronic stress; the constant release of stress-related hormones could also increase a developing child’s chances of developing autism, since such androgens have been associated with autistic symptoms.

Finally, a mother’s childhood abuse could be an indicator of a genetic risk for mental illness, which is often associated with abuse of youngsters. Studies showed that mental illness and autism may share genetic risk factors, “therefore, the perpetration of child abuse by grandparents and experience of abuse in childhood by the mother may be indicators of genetic risk for autism in the child,” the study authors write.

“Childhood abuse is associated with a wide array of health problems in the person who experiences it, including both mental health outcomes like depression and anxiety, and physical health outcomes like depression and anxiety, and physical health outcomes like obesity and lung disease,” said senior study author Marc Weisskopf, an associate professor of environmental and occupational epidemiology at Harvard School of Public Health, in a statement. “Our research suggests that the effects of childhood abuse may also reach across generations.”

If childhood abuse does turn out to be one of these reasons for the rise in autism cases, then efforts to prevent it take on new urgency, since such interventions can benefit more than just one victim.

Please feel free to voice your opinions, what are your thoughts on the study?

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