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A parenting perspective on the latest headlines
Feb 25, 2013
08:30 AM

Is There a Link Between Autism and Moms, Dads Delaying Parenthood?

First-time parents are older than ever, a study says, and special needs rates have risen in kids. What's the correlation – and what effect do aging dads have on their offspring?

Is There a Link Between Autism and Moms, Dads Delaying Parenthood?

Blame higher education and flourishing careers. They're top reasons many women are postponing having kids until later in life.

First-time mothers are older now than ever, according to the National Vital Statistics Reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The mean age of mothers to give birth to their first child was 25.4 in 2010 – up from 21.5 in the '70s, making today's moms four years older than those of decades past.

And right here in southeast Michigan, a similar trend has appeared, says Dr. Robert Welch, chairman of obstetrics and gynecology at Providence Hospital in Southfield and Providence Park Hospital in Novi.

"If we look at our society, the normal age for having a child is actually between 24 and 28 years old – but during that time is when women are completing college" and focusing on their careers, Welch says.

By doing so, more and more women have held off on having their first child.

"The oldest mother I've delivered is 55," he says.

Impending impact?

However, postponing the age of reproduction can have consequences, as touted in recent headlines such as one in New Republic titled, "How Older Parenthood Will Upend American Society: The scary consequences of the grayest generation."

"It's suspected that age does have an impact," Welch says – and, with autism, "that has been one of the speculations."

As women and men age, their chances of having a child with a birth defect or genetic disorder increases.

The road to pregnancy

Thirty-five is considered "advanced maternal age," or AMA, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists – "which is seeming younger all the time," Welch says.

But, as women get older, their ovulation begins to change, and "fertility stops pretty dramatically by age 37," Welch says.

Welch says many women visit a reproductive endocrinologist – also known as a fertility specialist – to assess their fertility and options for conceiving.

"They will start taking you through the process of IVF," also known as in vitro fertilization. "That can be a very expensive process," he says, and is not usually covered by insurance; however, the success rate is usually between two to six cycles.

Another form of IVF is known as ICSI, or intracytoplasmic sperm injection. With this method, doctors can "actually penetrate the egg with the husband's sperm and cause fertility," he says. Within the realm of these procedures, ICSI has the greatest risk, because "it's manipulation."

Welch adds, "The other thing that has been identified with IVF is increased risk of premature birth." In addition, the risk of birth defects may also increase with assisted conception, according to a broad study in Australia last year, notes The New York Times.

Cerebral palsy is a principal defect associated with premature birth, and this can vary from mild to major.

Still, Welch says women should not give up hope in their journey to have a child. Speaking with a reproductive endocrinologist will help them map out the best route to pregnancy and childbirth.

The 'dad' effect

Dads have aged, too. First-time dads, on average, are three years older than they were decades ago.

But, while women are born with all their eggs, men produce sperm regularly – and well into their golden years. However, higher paternal age has been linked to an increase in neurological disorders such as autism, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, according to a study published online in the journal Nature.

"When a man ejaculates and the sperm are swimming up the uterus to the egg, normal sperm swim better than abnormal sperm," Welch says.

But still, some of those abnormal sperm can penetrate an egg, and the mutations in that sperm can cause mutations in the child.

"As a man ages, the proportion of abnormal sperm to normal sperm increases," Welch says.

Nature's study estimates that a 36-year-old dad will pass on twice as many mutations to his child as a 20-year-old. As for a 70-year-old man – he's likely to pass on eight times as many.

Since, according to the CDC, one in 88 children is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, this will change one aspect for the upbringing of the next generation.

"I do think there is going to be more of a need for specialized service to accommodate children with special needs – and greater efforts to mainstream them," Welch says.

Old to new | New to old
Feb 25, 2013 01:32 pm
 Posted by  smartmom

Thank you for making us feel worse

Feb 25, 2013 07:34 pm
 Posted by  KellyD

So, we're back to autism being the fault of the parents? Age has nothing to do with whether a child will regress into autism, or develop asthma, allergies or ADHD. Autism is a myriad of established, medical disorders that have everything to do with environmental assaults, and nothing to do with the age of the parents. These ridiculous "studies" accomplish nothing except to divert the attention away from the true culprits of autism. In case Dr. Welch has not heard, they've also disproved the refrigerator mother, the mother who didn't take her prenatal pills on time, the mother who believes she was kidnapped by aliens, autism affects the youngest/oldest child, that autism affects those children born too close together/too far apart, the mother who mopped her floors while she was pregnant, the mother who had/didn't have a fever during her pregnancy, the parents who lived next to a freeway...and the coup de grace - the one that claims this is not an epidemic, but that children who regress into autism are from the future. This is simply another disgusting and pathetic ploy to divert attention away from what is sadly the FASTEST growing epidemic in the world.

Feb 25, 2013 08:45 pm
 Posted by  ljgoes

Could be aging dads. My husband was 30 when we had our son who is severely impacted by mitochondrial disease, lactic acidosis and mastocytosis. For years it was called autism, which, as we know, is just a word that describes behavior. In reality all those illnesses are simply a manifestation of vaccine injury. Pays to read the inserts. Much easier to blame old dads, refrigerator moms, people who like rainbows and unicorns. Anything but the scientific truth.

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