Parents with Autistic Child One-Third Less Likely to have More Children

First Posted: Jun 18, 2014 11:54 PM EDT

A recent study conducted by researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, shows that for many parents who have a child with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), this may factor into whether or not they decide to have any other children. For the study, published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, researchers discovered that parents with an autistic child were up to one third less likely to have any other children. 

"While it has been postulated that parents who have a child with ASD may be reluctant to have more children, this is first time that anyone has analyzed the question with hard numbers," said senior author of the study, Neil Risch, PhD, a University of California, San Francisco professor of epidemiology and biostatistics and director of the UCSF Institute for Human Genetics, in a news release. "This study is the first to provide convincing statistical evidence that reproductive stoppage exists and should be taken into account when calculating the risks for having a another child with ASD. These findings have important implications for genetic counseling of affected families."

For the study, researchers analyzed health records within the state of California. Looking at a total of 19,710 families in the area with an autistic child born between 1990 to 2003, researchers found that these families were more unlikely to have another child than the 36,215 other families studied without an autistic child from the control group. 

"Our work shows that not only do people with ASD have fewer children than others...but in families where a child has ASD, the fact that the parents choose to have fewer children means the genes that predispose to ASD are less likely to be passed on to future generations," Risch said, in the news release.

However, researchers did not specify why parents of autistic children did not have more children. 

"Unfortunately, we still don't know what causes autism, or which specific conditions make it more likely," co-author of the study, Lisa Croen, PhD, an epidemiologist and director of the Autism Research Program at Kaiser Permanente Northern California, said. "We are hoping that further research will enable us to identify both effective treatment strategies and, ultimately, modifiable causes of the disorder, so parents won't have to curtail their families for fear of having another affected child."

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