Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Hurricanes, emigration, and autism

A new research study has come out showing that emigrating to another country during pregnancy nearly doubles the risk of having a child who has low-functioning autism. The article will be published soon in the British Journal of Psychiatry.

Sandra and I wrote about the possible reason why in Welcome To Your Child's Brain. A similar finding has been observed in women who flee a hurricane during late-second or third trimester - or are caught in an ice storm. In all cases the risk of autism is increased. What do these events have in common?

The answer is that all are stressful events. Stress hormones, which organize the brain and body's response to an important event, can also impede brain development. The third trimester is known to be an especially important period for the development of hindbrain regions that are aberrant in the brains of autistic persons, such as the cerebellum. It's plausible that undue stress at this time might drive the normal developmental process off track.

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