Autism is a pervasive developmental disorder of deficits in social skills and communication, as well as repetitive and restricted behaviors, with onset occurring prior to age 3. Abnormal brain development, probably beginning in the womb, is known to be fundamental to the behaviors that characterize autism. Current estimates place the incidence of autism at between 1 in 100 and 1 in 110 children in the United States.
During the 1990s, the number of California women over 40 giving birth increased by more than 300 percent. But only about 5 percent of the 600-percent increase in the number of autism cases in the state can be attributed to women waiting longer to have children, the study suggests.
To conduct their investigation, the researchers obtained the electronic records for all births in California between Jan. 1, 1990 and Dec. 31, 1999. The records incorporated detailed demographic information, including the ages of both parents. To identify which children would develop autism, the researchers obtained electronic records identifying children born during the study period who later received an autism diagnosis from state Department of Developmental Services. In this study autism was defined as a diagnosis of full-syndrome autism at a California Regional Center.
The researchers also excluded a small number of births where demographic information about parents, such as their ages and levels of education, was not available. Instances of multiple births were analyzed separately. The exclusions brought the total size of the study sample to approximately 4.9 million births and 12,159 cases of autism.
For older mothers, the step-wise progression in the risk of having a child who later would be diagnosed with autism was apparent among every age group of fathers. When the father was older and the mother was younger under 30 the child's risk for developing autism
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University of California - Davis - Health System