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Older Parents at Higher Risk of Having Autistic Children

Grandfather and grandchild walking in nature path
Photograph by Getty Images/iStockphoto

Men and women who have children later in life face an increased risk of having children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), according to a new study from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden. The findings aren't necessarily news to parents, but they did shed some light on just how suddenly the risk rises.

The study researchers looked at records for 417,000 children over nearly two decades and examined factors that could increase or influence the risk of autism (family income, parental age, parent's psychiatric history, etc.).

The findings showed that, while men do face an increased risk of having kids with ASD later in their lives, the risk is linear and gradual. "For babies born to mothers aged 30 and older, the chance of developing ASD rose rapidly," professor and study researcher Brian Lee said. What's so different about a woman who's 29, 30 or 31? Well, doctors say that environmental factors could play a role, as well as previous pregnancy complications.

But there is a silver lining: Researchers say that for those couples hoping to start a family later in life, the risk is still relatively low.

Overall, the odds of having a child with ASD are still less than two in 100, "even for mothers up to age 45."

The study was published in the Journal of Epidemiology.

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