Brand new facts about autism

7dc471-sa01RTR2C97H-900x599The risk of developing autism may be passed on through – and not just to – future generations, researchers say.
The international study suggests older fathers are more likely to have grandchildren with autism than their younger counterparts.
The mechanism is unclear but it is thought they may transmit “silent mutations” to their grandchildren.
But experts have urged caution, stressing autism is multifactorial disease.
The study, looking at almost 6,000 people with the condition, is published in the journal Jama Psychiatry.
According to the National Autistic Society, more than one in every 100 people in the UK have the condition.
Previous researches suggested older dads may be at greater risk of having children with autism than younger fathers.
But the team of researchers from different countries says this is one of the first pieces of evidence to show the risk can be passed on through – rather than just straight to – future generations.

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We can’t put exact figures on this risk yet. But the majority of children born to older fathers and grandfathers grow up fine”
The “silent mutations” – changes in genetic material – are likely to have no obvious impact on older fathers’ own children, but they may build up through subsequent generations, or interact with other genes and environmental factors, to increase the chance of their grandchildren developing the condition, the researchers say.
Using national databases from USA, Sweaden they studied almost 6,000 people diagnosed with the condition and more than 20,000 without, tracking their parents’ and grandparents’ ages.
They found men who had a daughter when aged 60 or older were 1.89 times more likely to have a grandchild with autism, compared to men who fathered children when aged between 20-24.
And those who had a son when 60 years of age or older were 1.77 times more likely to have a grandchild with the condition.
‘Complex causes’
It doesn’t mean that old people mustn’t have children just because of increased risk of autism. The risk is still small.
Co-author of the study, Dr Avi Reichenberg who is a reseacher from King’s College Institute of Psychiatry, told the BBC: “It is about choices. If you choose to have a child at an old age there are always consequences. This is something everyone should consider.
“Unfortunately we can’t put exact figures on this risk yet. But most children born with older fathers and grandfathers grow up fine.
“And as scientists this type of information helps open doors to understanding more about the condition.”
Caroline Hattersley, of The National Autistic Society, said: “While this research is useful in aiding our understanding of autism’s complex causes, it should be treated with caution.
“Autism is thought to be the result of many different underlying physical and genetic factors.
“The study is not definitive, as we know that many people who had children at a young age also have grandchildren with the condition. We therefore urge parents and those thinking of starting a family not to be concerned about the findings.”
Even those who were not involved in the study have their own opinion about it: “It is a great part of work and the explanations seems to be plausible. But grandparents don’t seem to feel themself as they are in trouble. They just don’t mind”.
“We are at the early stages of research and this study gives us a slightly deeper understanding of what is going on in the background.” says Dr Terry Brugha who is a professor of psychiatry at the University of Leicester.

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