Thursday, March 21, 2013

Woman - abused as child - more likely to have autistic children

Time   The results are the first to suggest a trans-generational contributor to the developmental disorder.

The study, published in the  journal JAMA Psychiatry, is the first to examine the potential legacy that a mother’s experience with childhood abuse could have on the health of her own children. The findings are especially sobering given the latest statistics released from the Centers for Disease Control, which found a significantly higher rate of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) — one in 50 compared to one in 88 from a report released in 2012 — among school-aged children than previously thought.

The authors of the JAMA Psychiatry paper studied more than 50,000 women enrolled in the Nurse’s Health Study II, who were asked about any history of abuse before they were 12. The questions delved into both physical and emotional abuse, as the women evaluated whether they had been hit hard enough to leave bruises, as well as whether adults or caregivers had insulted, screamed or yelled at them. They also filled out questionnaires about whether their own children were diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders. The scientists also had access to the nurses’ health records, so they could adjust for other maternal health factors known to influence autism risk, including nine pregnancy-related conditions such as preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, alcohol consumption and smoking.

Women who reported physical, emotional, or sexual abuse when they were young were more likely to have a child with autism compared to women who were not abused. The more severely the women were abused, the higher their chances of having a child with autism; compared to women who weren’t abused, those who endured the most serious mistreatment were 60% as likely to have an autistic child.[...]

How? The researchers believe that some of the lifestyle circumstances associated with abuse, such as poor nutrition, could be responsible for some of the association. It’s also possible that abuse causes biological changes in a woman’s immune system, including disruption of the stress response, that could lead to harmful effects on a developing fetus. Studies have shown that autistic children showed abnormal stress responses, and it’s possible that a mother’s altered stress reaction could be passed on to her child. “Maternal inflammation affects the developing brain, and maternal inflammation and immune function have been hypothesized to be causes of autism,” the researchers write.

The researchers also speculate that childhood abuse can leave women in a state of chronic stress; the constant release of stress-related hormones could also increase a developing child’s chances of developing autism, since such androgens have been associated with autistic symptoms. Finally, a mother’s childhood abuse could be an indicator of a genetic risk for mental illness, which is often associated with abuse of youngsters. Studies showed that mental illness and autism may share genetic risk factors, “therefore, the perpetration of child abuse by grandparents and experience of abuse in childhood by the mother may be indicators of genetic risk for autism in the child,” the study authors write.


  1. Can you bring any Halachic sources for this?

    It kind of blows away DT's theory that we "created" trauma.

  2. Eddie I really don't understand your comment. Could you try again.

  3. OK, this article suggests that stress related hormones as a result of abuse can cause damage not only to the child, but also when the child grows up and has children, can damage her children by way of autism.

    Thus, it is sating that there are physiological symptoms of stress caused by abuse, which are so severe that they can go on to damage a baby, who itself was not necessarily abused (only the mother was when she was a child).

    In previous posts it was suggested that trauma did not exist in the past, and is only a result of modern psychology.

    The physiological-psychological link is well established. The article suggests that the stress causes physiological changes. How exactly can "modern psychology" be responsible for certain physiological changes, which is what you are claiming?

    To put the theory another way, you are suggesting that yes, Modern Psychology is more powerful than serious abuse, since in the past there was no psychology and only today have we identified trauma.

    As a scientific theory, I think it would fail dismally. There is too much circular logic.

    1. Eddie you are accepting a correlational relationship as causal.
      The study claims that mothers who were abaused as children are more likely to have autistic children. Not aware of evidence that stress causes autism.

      Alternative explanation - abuse - especially severe abuse is more likely to be found in poor families. Poor families are less likely to provide adequate nutrition. Children who are malnutritioned are more like to have autistic children.

      Bottom line - the study has not established causality nor have they established a valid mechanism for abuse leading to autism

    2. The study does provide a mechanism of stress hormones. It is also a complex relationship with genetics, and I would add epigenetics.

      The poorer families/abuse/malnuntiriton links you provide are totally unrealsitic. Here is a report of a study that found autism is more prominent in richer families.

      In any case, we are not discussing the cause of autism per se, but the inter-generational effects of severe abuse and stress.

    3. Eddie the study does not provide a mechanism but merely suggests the possiblity. The study is a correlational study not an experiment.

      I disagree with your rejection of my hypothesis. Autism is more commonly diagnosised in rich families but it isn't established that they have greater amounts of autism.

      Bottom line - the data that exists now doesn't give a clear cut answer to causal relationships for autism


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