Prematurity and Autism Spectrum Disorders

Maya Yaari, Smadar Eventov-Freidman, David Mankuta, Benjamin Bar-Oz, Nurit Yirmiya

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Prematurity is associated with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), and both are known to be associated with various neurodevelopmental difficulties. In this chapter we will present the accumulating evidence for the role of prematurity in the development of ASD. Retrospective research on risk factors for ASD, conducted with cohorts of children already diagnosed with ASD, has identified prematurity and low birth weight as a significant perinatal risk factor for the development of ASD. In addition, researchers examining the neurodevelopmental outcomes of prematurely born infants have reported higher rates of ASD and social difficulties in this population. In light of these results, it will be suggested that the odds for receiving an ASD diagnosis are higher for preemies, and the prevalence of preterm birth and accompanying complications is relatively high among children with ASD in comparison to the general population. Recently, several pioneering research groups reported on associations among prematurity and ASD, using tools that are specific for detection of ASD in toddlers. An alarming rate of 21--40 % of very preterm infants scored positive on a parental screening questionnaire (i.e., the Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers), in cohorts of preterm infants at the age of 21--24 months, corrected age. It will be discussed that these results may indeed reflect a true increase in ASD risk in this population, or, possibly, this rate may be somewhat elevated due to confounding factors such as neuromotor, cognitive, and sensory impairments that are also prevalent in preterm infants. Furthermore, we will discuss the questions regarding the mediating role of genetic vulnerability and nonoptimal perinatal environmental in the development of ASD.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationComprehensive Guide to Autism
EditorsVinood B. Patel, Victor R. Preedy, Colin R. Martin
Place of PublicationNew York, NY
PublisherSpringer New York
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)978-1-4614-4788-7
ISBN (Print)978-1-4614-4787-0
StatePublished - 2014


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