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Early speech therapist help key for infants exposed to birth complications

Friday 3rd February 2017
Early intervention from speech therapists may be key for preventing autism in children exposed to birth complications, new research suggests. Image: Marina_Di via iStock
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Early intervention from speech therapists may have significant benefits for children who were exposed to complications during their birth, a new study suggests.

Research carried out by doctors based at Kaiser Permanente hospitals in Southern California between 1991 and 2009 found that children whose mothers suffered pre-eclampsia or who had their oxygen supply cut off temporarily before they were born were at greater risk of being diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Overall, when compared to children born with no complications, those who were born following a complicated labour were ten per cent more likely to be autistic, with this risk increasing to 22 per cent among infants exposed to complications before labour began. For those subject to difficulties both before and during birth, the risk of autism increased by 44 per cent.

This indicates that children born following difficult births may be more likely to display traits of social awkwardness, such as not making eye contact with other people and being unable to express or communicate their feelings.

The study took into account various other factors aside from the birth complications, such as the mother's age, at how many weeks gestation babies were born and even their ethnicity. However, birth circumstances were found to be the factor most likely to determine ASD risk in this study.

Doctors believe that this may be due to the oxygen supply to the parts of the brain responsible for processing emotions and communications being affected as a result of the birth complications.

Darios Getahun, lead author of the study, commented: "While there currently is no cure for ASD, early identification of children who may be at risk of developing the disorder is extremely important, as research shows that early intervention treatment services for children with ASD can greatly improve their development."

This suggests that speech therapists should be involved with children who were exposed to complications during birth from a young age, as previous research has shown that early-life intervention from speech and language experts can help to prevent the development of autism altogether.

Written by Martin Lambert

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