Autism (also referred to as autism spectrum disorders or ASD) is commonly defined as a developmental disorder. This means that autism affects cognitive development including social and communication skills. Autism is typically diagnosed within the first three years of a child’s life.
If you are undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF), you may wonder if there is a link between IVF and birth defects or whether fertility treatments could cause disorders like autism. A number of studies have looked to see if there is a relationship between IVF and autism. To date, the studies show inconsistent results. Studies show anywhere from a reduced risk of autism after IVF to a 3-fold increase in risk. Overall, there is no clear link of IVF to autism. There is also no conclusive link between the use of fertility drugs and autism.
Symptoms of autism may include:
- A delay in talking
- Difficulties in social interactions
- Repeated movements, behaviors or routines
In the past 20 years, the incidence of children being diagnosed with autism has increased by nearly 10-fold. It is estimated that ASDs may occur in 1 in 88 to 1 in 100 children. The reasons for the increase in the diagnosis of autism may include a true increase in the condition. Or, the increase may be due to a rise in screening and recognition of the disorder.
Causes of autism
The exact causes of autism are unknown. There is no single known cause. It appears there are both genetic (hereditary) and environmental components to the development of autism.
Here are some things we do know about the causes of autism:
- A number of genes may be involved in the development of autism.
- Recent studies of twins have shown that if one twin has autism, the other twin may have a 50-90 percent chance of also having autism.
- Environmental factors such as viral infections and air and water pollution may play a role in triggering autism.
- A link between childhood vaccines and the development of autism has been proposed, however, there is no real evidence to support this claim.
Risk factors for autism
Autism affects children of all nationalities, social classes and races. Risk factors for autism may include:
- Gender – Males are three to four times more likely to be diagnosed with autism.
- Being a firstborn child – Firstborns face an increased risk.
- Having a family history of autism – The risk of having a second child with autism is approximately 5 to 10 percent. A recent study in the journal Pediatrics reported that 18.7 percent of infants with at least one older sibling with ASD will develop autism.
- Parental age – If the father is older than 40 years of age when a child is conceived, there may be as much as a 2 to 6-fold increased risk of autism. A link between maternal age and autism is less certain.
- Medical disorders – These include fragile X syndrome, epilepsy, and tuberous sclerosis.
- Being born with a low birth weight or prematurely
- Chronic inflammatory or autoimmune conditions in the mother
Early diagnosis of autism spectrum disorders is essential. At this time, there is no proven way to prevent or cure autism. However a number of treatment options are available which help with specific symptoms and which help to bring about significant improvement in behavior.
If you are undergoing fertility treatments and are concerned about these issues, make a point to address this topic with your fertility specialist. He or she will share the facts about any potential links between fertility treatments and birth defects.
Dr. Carmelo Sgarlata is a leading Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility specialist at the Reproductive Science Center of the San Francisco Bay Area. With over 25 years of experience and well over 1,000 babies born through his guidance, Dr. Sgarlata has become well known in the community where he lives and practices. His areas of special interest include Operative Laparoscopy and Hysteroscopy, Ovulation disorders including diminished ovarian reserve and recurrent pregnancy loss.