WEDNESDAY, March 20 (HealthDay News) -- Women who were physically, emotionally or sexually abused as children are more likely to have a child with autism, a new study suggests.
For women who suffered the most severe abuse, the risk more than tripled, the researchers found.
"This is a completely new risk factor for autism," said lead investigator Andrea Roberts, a research associate at the Harvard School of Public Health.
"Child abuse has a horrible effect on individuals who experience it, but the effects might reach across generations," she said. "The more abuse a woman had been exposed to in her own childhood, the more likely she was to have a child with autism."
Even women who experienced moderate levels of abuse were 60 percent more likely to have a child with autism, she added.
Although this increased risk seems high, the absolute risk of autism associated with a mother's exposure to abuse in childhood is very low, Roberts said.
In women who were not abused as children, fewer than one in 100 of those children had autism. Among women exposed to the highest level of abuse, two in 100 of their children had autism. "So, most of their kids don't have autism," she said.
Roberts cautioned that these findings only show an association.
"We can't assert cause-and-effect," she said. "The puzzle is to figure out what could be causing this association."
Dr. Andrew Adesman, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at the Steven & Alexandra Cohen Children's Medical Center of New York, agreed that the unanswered question is how a mother's abuse might be linked to her child's chances of having autism.
"The association seems clear. What is not clear is why it's there," he said.
The report was published online March 20 in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Preventio
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