A risk factor is something that increases your likelihood of getting a disease or condition.
You can develop autism with or without the risk factors listed below. However, the more risk factors you have, the greater your chance of developing autism. There is no known way to change your child's risk for autism.
Genetics is believed to play a role in the risk of autism. This is because the condition is more common in:
Recent studies have linked deletions in a section of chromosome 16. This chromosome abnormality may account for a small percentage of autism cases.
Caucasian males are more likely to be affected by autism than females. But, when girls are affected, they may have more profound symptoms.
Older parents, such as a woman over age 35, may have a higher risk of having a child with autism.
Autism occurs more frequently in children with rare genetic disorders or other medical conditions, including:
There has been much attention around a link between vaccines and autism. This is partly because of a vaccine preservative called thimerosol. But, studies have not found an association between vaccines and the development of autism.
Autism 101: a free online course. The Autism Society website. Available at: http://support.autism-society.org/site/PageServer?pagename=about_course. Accessed May 14, 2013.
Autism spectrum disorders. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated May 6, 2013. Accessed May 14, 2013.
Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/index.html. Updated August 7, 2012. Accessed May 14, 2013.
Autism spectrum disorders (pervasive developmental disorders). National Institute of Mental Health website. Available at: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/autism-spectrum-disorders-pervasive-developmental-disorders/index.shtml. Updated May 14, 2013. Accessed May 14, 2013.
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Goetz CG. Goetz’s Textbook of Clinical Neurology. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders; 2007.
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Neonatal encephalopathy. Newborn Services Clinical Guideline website. Available at: http://www.adhb.govt.nz/newborn/guidelines/Neurology/NE.htm. Accessed May 15, 2013.
Parker SK, Schwartz B, et al. Thimerosal-containing vaccines and autistic spectrum disorder: a critical review of published original data. Pediatrics. 2004;114(3):793-804.
Rapin I. An 8-year-old boy with autism. JAMA. 2001;285:1749-1757.
Stern TA, et al. Massachusetts General Hospital Comprehensive Clinical Psychiatry. 1st ed. Philadelphia, PA: Mosby Elsevier; 2008.
Wilson K, Mills E, et al. Association of autistic spectrum disorder and the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine: a systematic review of current epidemiological evidence. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2003;157(7):628-634.
Last reviewed March 2014 by Kari Kassir, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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