BACKGROUND: The aim of this study was to examine the long-term risk for autism spectrum disorders (ASD) in individuals who are born preterm and full-term using both observational instruments and parental reports. Neonatal risk factors and developmental characteristics associated with ASD risk were also examined.
METHOD: Participants included 110 preterm children (born at a gestational age of ≤ 34 weeks) and 39 full-term children assessed at ages 18, 24, and 36 months. The Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule, the Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers, the Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised, the Social Communication Questionnaire, and the Mullen Scales of Early Learning were administered.
RESULTS AND CONCLUSIONS: The long-term risk for ASD was higher when parental reports were employed compared to observational instruments. At 18 and 24 months, a higher long-term risk for ASD was found for preterm children compared to full-term children. At 36 months, only one preterm child and one full-term child met the cutoff for ASD based on the ADOS, yet clinical judgment and parental reports supported an ASD diagnosis for the preterm child only. Earlier gestational age and lower general developmental abilities were associated with elevated ASD risk among preterm children.