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Being Born Small, Early Raises Autism Risk
Date:6/2/2008

CDC study found link was most pronounced for low-birth-weight girls

MONDAY, June 2 (HealthDay News) -- Children who are born underweight or early have more than double the risk of developing autism, new research shows.

The risk was especially pronounced among low-birth-weight girls, said the authors of the study, which was published in the June issue of Pediatrics.

The study, by researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, helps tease out the mysterious underpinnings of this disorder but is unlikely to translate into benefits for patients anytime soon.

"This gives us more clues [about autism], which we desperately need, but it's not anything clinicians can use right away," said Dr. Cindy Molloy, an autism researcher and clinical assistant professor of pediatrics at the Center for Epidemiology and Biostatistics at Cincinnati Children's Hospital.

The results do reinforce the importance of monitoring children who are born underweight or early for behavioral problems so they can be treated, said study author Diana Schendel, lead health scientist at the CDC's National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities.

So-called "autism-spectrum disorders" are a group of developmental disorders characterized by social and communication problems. According to the National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke, some three to six children out of every 1,000 will have autism, while males are four times more likely to develop the disorder than girls.

Previous studies have indicated that low birth weight and being born premature are important risk factors for developmental problems generally in children. But the association between these factors and autism is less clear.

A Canadian study published earlier this year did find that premature infants who were born at a very low birth weight -- about 3.3 pounds -- were more likely to screen posit
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