Older Dads May Have Kids With Autism
The new finding comes at a time when there is great controversy over autism in the United States; a recent surge in diagnoses has fueled speculations about various possible causes of the disorder. For scientists, both the origins and potential treatment for the disorder remain a mystery.
With every decade of advancing age starting with men in their teens and twenties, the new study found, older fathers pose a growing risk to their children when it comes to autism -- unhappy evidence that the medical risks associated with late parenthood are not just the province of older mothers, as much previous research has suggested.
Of especial concern is the finding that the risk for autism not only increases with paternal age, but appears to accelerate.
When fathers are in their thirties, children have about one and a half times the risk of developing autism as children of fathers in their teens and twenties. Compared to the offspring of the youngest fathers, children of fathers in their forties have more than five times the risk of developing autism, and children of fathers in their fifties have more than nine times the risk.
Autism is a developmental disorder that is often characterized by social and verbal problems. It becomes manifest early in childhood and is associated with learning deficits and other problems. Many cases are diagnosed shortly after children enter school, where differences between kids become too painfully obvious to ignore.
A wide variety of interventions are increasingly available for autistic children, and early behavioral interventions have been said to help with outcomes and functioning. There is, however, no cure for the disorder, and scientists are still not sure about the biological roots of the disorder.
Autistic people can be unresponsive in social situations, or focused intently on a single task or object for long periods. While some parents recognize their babies seem different from a very young age, U.S. government researchers also say that sometimes engaging and babbling babies can suddenly turn "silent, withdrawn, self-abusive, or indifferent to social overtures."
In recent years, concern and controversy have grown -- despite a lack of conclusive evidence -- that mercury in children's vaccines produces toxicity that leads to autism.
While the link between older fathers and autistic children is likely genetic, the researchers who conducted the new study also acknowledged the possibility that unknown social factors could simultaneously be causing men to delay parenthood while independently increasing autism rates.