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Autism in Children Topics..

You are here : home > Autism in Children > Diagnosing Autism in Children > Diagnosing Autism during Pregnancy

Diagnosing Autism during Pregnancy

Diagnosing Autism during Pregnancy

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 Spielberg.

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 Cohen.

Prenatal Factors 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
  • The 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 anemia

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.

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