Autism risk linked to prematurity is more accentuated in girls

Leora Allen, Odelia Leon-Attia, Meirav Shaham, Shahar Shefer, Lidia V. Gabis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction Prematurity has been identified as a risk factor for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The link between Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and birth-week has not been strongly evidenced. We evaluated the correlation between the degree of prematurity and the incidence of autism in a cohort of 871 children born prematurely and followed from birth. The cohort was reduced to 416 premature infants born between 2011–2017 who were followed for 2–14 years, and analyzed according to birth week (degree of prematurity), and according to gender. Results 43 children (10.3%) received a definite diagnosis of ASD. There was a significant correlation between birth week and the risk of ASD, with 22.6% of children diagnosed with ASD when born at 25 weeks, versus 6% of ASD diagnoses at 31 weeks of prematurity. For children born after 32 weeks, the incidence decreased to 8–12.5%. A strong link was found between earlier birth week and increased autism risk; the risk remained elevated during near-term prematurity in boys. A correlation between early birth week and an elevated risk for ASD was seen in all children, but accentuated in females, gradually decreasing as birth week progresses; in males the risk for ASD remains elevated for any birth week. Conclusion A statistically significant increase in rates of autism was found with each additional week of prematurity. Females drove this direct risk related to degree of prematurity, while males had an elevated risk throughout prematurity weeks, even at near-term. We recommend including ASD screening in follow up of infants born prematurely, at all levels of prematurity.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0236994
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number8 August
StatePublished - Aug 2020


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