Mourning doesn't mean autism

Severe stress during pregnancy has been proposed as a risk factor for autism, but a new study finds that at least one source of such stress appears unrelated to the disorder.

The study, which analyzed records on 1.5 million children born in Denmark, found no evidence of an increased autism risk among children whose mothers lost a close family member shortly before or during pregnancy.

The findings, reported in the journal Pediatrics, suggest that mothers' bereavement -- as an indicator of substantial stress -- does not contribute to autism risk.

However, the researchers say, the study does not prove that prenatal stress plays no role in autism development.

While genetics are thought to be important in autism risk, experts also believe that environmental factors are involved. Just what those factors are remains unclear. In theory, severe stress during pregnancy could affect fetal brain development in a way that raises the risk of future autism.

Accurately measuring prenatal stress is "very difficult," Dr. Jiong Li, the lead researcher on the current study, told Reuters Health.

"A simple indicator of stress, like bereavement in our study, may fail to unveil the association between stress and autism," explained Li, a researcher at the University of Aarhus in Denmark.

In addition, Li pointed out, bereavement around the time of pregnancy is fairly infrequent, which makes it more difficult for a study to detect a general effect.

The findings are based on records for nearly 1.5 million children born between 1978 and 2003. More than 37,000 of those mothers lost a child, spouse, parent or sibling during pregnancy or in the year before becoming pregnant. There was no evidence that their children had a higher risk of developing autism.

"What we can say is, our data do not support a strong association, and people should not be panic about such an event," Li said.

"But," the researcher added, "our data would not argue against the evidence from other studies that severe stress could affect neurological development in fetus."
We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
Zama zama crackdown: What are your thoughts on West Village residents taking the law into their own hands?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Authorities should bring in the army already
11% - 2142 votes
Illegal miners can't be scapegoated for all crime
49% - 9856 votes
What else did we expect without no proper policing
36% - 7282 votes
Vigilante groups are also part of the problem
4% - 733 votes
Rand - Dollar
Rand - Pound
Rand - Euro
Rand - Aus dollar
Rand - Yen
Brent Crude
Top 40
All Share
Resource 10
Industrial 25
Financial 15
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes Iress logo
Editorial feedback and complaints

Contact the public editor with feedback for our journalists, complaints, queries or suggestions about articles on News24.