Women who experienced physical, emotional, or sexual abuse as children are more likely to have a child with autism than women who were not abused, according to a new study from Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH). Those who experienced the most serious abuse had the highest likelihood of having a child with autism — three-and-a-half times more than women who were not abused.
“Our study identifies a completely new risk factor for autism,” said lead author Andrea Roberts, research associate in the HSPH Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences. “Further research to understand how a woman’s experience of abuse is associated with autism in her children may help us better understand the causes of autism and identify preventable risk factors.”
The study appears online March 20, 2013 and in the May 2013 print issue of JAMA Psychiatry. It is the first to explore the relationship between a mother’s exposure to childhood abuse and risk of autism in her children.
The authors examined data from more than 50,000 women enrolled in the Nurses’ Health Study II. They found that it was not just women exposed to the most serious levels of abuse who had higher risk of having a child with autism, but also a large number of women who experienced moderate abuse.