Are prenatal tests for autism a boon or a bane?
Prenatal tests to detect autism help in detecting autism before the child is
born. This raises many ethical issues. Avoiding the prenatal factors that may
lead to autism is the best option. Which factors during pregnancy term,
contribute to autism? Read on.
Scientists at Cambridge University have recently discovered
the possibility of screening unborn babies to detect
autism in the womb itself. This is based on a research which indicates that
high level of testosterone in the amniotic fluid of pregnant women is
associated with autistic traits in children.
The university's autism
research team discovered the testosterone link after studying 235 children from
birth to the age of eight. It was noted that when high levels of the hormone
were detected, children exhibited autistic traits such as a lack of sociability
and verbal skills by the time they were eight years of age.
Based on this research it appears that with the help of a screening
process called amniocentesis it may be possible to conduct tests to detect
autism. This test is already used in detection of other disorders in unborn
children like Down’s syndrome. The test results would help parents decide
whether to eliminate the fetus or carry on the pregnancy. This also raises the
ethical issue of whether prenatal
test for autism is desirable or not?
Some children with autism have extraordinary abilities in
specific subjects like mathematics and music. Although majority of such
children have an extraordinary grasp of facts, they have no concept of
interpretation or analysis. Due to this shortcoming they have issues with
socialising and forming lasting relationship.
Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, director of the Autism Research
Centre at Cambridge, has observed that “autistic males often turn out to be
skilled at Mathematics and Engineering - some reaching near-genius level”.
According to him Newton and Einstein were almost certainly autistic, so was
blind pianist Derek Paravicini and, reportedly, the film director Steven
Hence, if prenatal screening were in fact possible for
autism, and gave parents the opportunity of terminating the fetus, we might get
rid of not just a difficult child but a potential genius according to Professor
Responsible for Autism
Till such time that prenatal screening for autism comes into
being, expectant mothers can take certain precautions and reduce risks
associated with autism. Although not conclusively proven following are some
prenatal factors which may contribute to autism:
- Taking antidepressants during pregnancy, particularly
in the first trimester
- Nutritional deficiencies early in pregnancy
especially folic acid deficiency
- Maternal infections during pregnancy
- Exposure to chemical pollutants such as metals and
pesticides, while pregnant
age of the mother and the father- research studies have indicated that
children born to older fathers have a higher risk of suffering from autism
- Complications like very low birth weight or neonatal
Tips for Pregnant
Women to Reduce Risk of Autism
- Taking a Multivitamin - Taking 400
micrograms of folic acid every day is very useful to prevent birth defects
such as spina bifida. Although not proven whether this will help reduce
risk of autism or not, taking the vitamins will only be beneficial and not
cause any harm to the unborn baby or the mother.
- Antidepressants - Pregnant women
taking drugs to handle depression during pregnancy must clearly discuss
and understand the risks and benefits of these drugs. This does not mean
that pregnant women must stay away from anti depressants completely.
Untreated depression in a mother can actually affect the well being of the
child. Hence antidepressants must be taken after understanding its
possible impact and carefully weighing the pros and cons of taking it.
Giving birth to a healthy child can be easy provided
expectant mothers ensure that they eat nutritious food, avoid infections, and
have regular medical check-ups.