Study Links Father’s Age to Child’s Autism Risk

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It's a developmental disorder that's puzzled the medical community for decades.

Now, a new study finds a connection between a father’s age and his child’s risk for autism.

According to research published in the medical journal “Nature,” the older a new father is, the greater the chances his child may develop autism.

“The study was not created to cause fright and fear running in the streets,” said Dr. Max Wiznitzer, a child neurologist at Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital. “The reason for the study was to give us an explanation.  Why are we seeing an increase in numbers?  And this is what the study tells us and points to additional studies that can be done.”

With more men becoming fathers at an older age, the study may explain the rise in the disorder, said Mia Buchwald Gelles, co-founder of Milestones Autism Organization.

“Autism is steadily rising,” Gelles said. “In the 80’s, 90’s, it’s one in 10,000. Now the rate is one in 88, for boys it is one in 54. So this just gives us one little piece of the puzzle.”

While the study is important to better understanding a potential cause for autism, Wiznitzer said it’s important to know that the study was researched in Iceland.

Because the population of Ireland is less diverse than nations like the United States, he said the number may not apply to everyone.

“If it carries over into other populations such as in the Americas, Europe, Asia, it could explain at least 20 to 30 percent of the increase of the number of individuals with autism,” Wiznitzer said.

The study also claims a man’s genetic mutations can lead to other disorders in his child, like Schizophrenia.

In contrast, Wiznitzer said other studies have made similar claims about women, stating that older new mothers are likely to pass on health problems to their children.

“While this one did not, there is other data that tells us that there is increased risk with older mothers and obviously those populations need to be investigated in greater detail,” he said.

More often than not, Wiznitzer said those mutations are benign and the chances of genetic problems are slim.

“It’s actually a small number that have a bad effect. Even within that number, there’s even a smaller number that affect key or critical genes that influence brain development,” he said. “While this doesn’t change anything about the treatments or about interventions, what it does do is give us an explanation for why we may have a rise in the number of children with the diagnosis of autism.”

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