It is common knowledge that the older a woman gets, the riskier it is to have a baby. This goes for both the mother and the baby. The older parents are when they have a child, the more likely they are to have a child with autism. This falls especially on the mother’s age. New research and data from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) show that there is a link between a mother’s age when giving birth and a child’s chances of developing autism.
What Is Autism?
Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder with a broad range of conditions from challenges with social skills, repetitive behavior, motor skills, speech, and nonverbal communication. According to the CDC, it affects 1 in 59 children in the U.S. It is believed that autism begins in the womb with abnormal brain development of the fetus. Every case is different, which is why it is a spectrum disorder. The way in which a person with autism learns, thinks, and problem-solves can range from highly skilled to extremely challenged. Some people need more help with daily living, while others can live completely independently.
In a study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, researchers reported that both the father’s and mother’s age had an impact on their child’s risk of autism. However, the risk was greater for older mothers compared to older fathers. When they compared the parents’ ages, autism risk grew steadily with the father’s increasing age but accelerated with the mother’s age after 30. If a woman who is younger than 25 has a baby with a man who is older than 40, they are two times more likely to birth a baby with autism than a father who was between 25-29. While the father’s age does take a role, it is the advanced mother’s age that is linked to significant elevated risk, regardless of the father’s age.
Research compared women of all ages that had children to women aged 25-29 who had children. It showed that mothers who had a baby at ages 30-34 were 12% more likely to have a child with autism than women aged 25-29. Women aged 35-39 were 31% more likely to have an autistic child, and women over the age of 40 are 50-70% more likely to have an autistic child.
Although there is no concrete reason, there are some theories for the increased risk of an autistic child in older women. Some range from environmental factors to genetic factors. One theory is that the older parents are, the more likely genetic mutations occur in the sperm or cell develop.
Many women nowadays are career driven and choose to wait until at least 30 to start a family. Some women just want to live before they can commit to having a baby. Whatever their decision is, it appears that the longer they wait, the higher the risk of their child developing autism. But experts stress that although the parental age is a risk factor, it is not the cause, and should not affect the decision to have children at any age. Maureen Durkin, an epidemiologist and professor of population health sciences and pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin–Madison states that “If a couple is faced with the decision of whether to delay childbearing until they finish school and are in a relatively stable position to provide parenting or rush to have children when they are young to avoid autism, I would say the weight of the evidence favors the former approach.”
No matter when you choose to have a baby, if they do have autism, it is okay. Autism does not make a baby, or child any less “normal”. Autistic people are different, not less. Instead of linking thoughts and discussions of autism to fear, pity, and tragedy, we should celebrate it. We should view autism with support, acceptance, and empowerment.