Study Links Low Birth Weight to Autism

Research has found that premature infants born with a low birth weight are five times moreautismlikely to have autism spectrum disorders (ASD) than children born at normal weights.

While 1 percent of U.S. children in general are diagnosed with ASD according to most estimates, University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing researchers found that 5 percent of the premature infants whose progress they followed developed ASD.

The study, published in the October 2011 issue of Pediatrics, is the first to establish a link between low birth weight and autism, and the research is remarkable because the 862 children, all born in the 1980s in New Jersey, were followed for 21 years. Previous research has established links between low birth weight and a range of motor and cognitive problems. Researchers have expressed concern that these more recognized problems from low birth weight could mask ASD in some children.

The next step in the current study, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, is for researchers to examine brain ultrasounds taken of these children as newborns, to determine whether brain hemorrhage – a complication of premature birth – is linked to autism.

Detecting autism as early in life as possible is considered essential; early intervention improves long-term outcome for these children both in school and at home.

Watch for signs of normal development in your baby, toddler or preschooler with the help of this handy guide from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It’s called, “Learn the Signs, Act Early” and you can access it online at

– Christina Elston