Women Abused as Children More Likely to Have Children With Autism

autism-awarenessVia ScienceDaily:

Women who experienced physical, emotional, or sexual abuse as children are more likely to have a child with autism than women who were not abused, according to a new study from Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH). Those who experienced the most serious abuse had the highest likelihood of having a child with autism — three-and-a-half times more than women who were not abused.

“Our study identifies a completely new risk factor for autism,” said lead author Andrea Roberts, research associate in the HSPH Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences. “Further research to understand how a woman’s experience of abuse is associated with autism in her children may help us better understand the causes of autism and identify preventable risk factors.”

The study appears online March 20, 2013 and in the May 2013 print issue of JAMA Psychiatry. It is the first to explore the relationship between a mother’s exposure to childhood abuse and risk of autism in her children.

The authors examined data from more than 50,000 women enrolled in the Nurses’ Health Study II. They found that it was not just women exposed to the most serious levels of abuse who had higher risk of having a child with autism, but also a large number of women who experienced moderate abuse. While about 2% of women reported the most serious abuse, even women in the top 25% of abuse severity — which included mostly women who experienced more moderate levels of abuse — were 60% more likely to have a child with autism compared with women who did not experience abuse. These results suggest that childhood abuse is not only very harmful for the person who directly experiences it, but may also increase risk for serious disabilities in the next generation, the authors said.

Delving further, the researchers looked at nine pregnancy-related risk factors to see if they were linked to higher risk of having a child with autism in women who were abused as children. These nine risk factors — including gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, and smoking — have been previously associated with an increased likelihood of having a child with autism.

The researchers did find that women who had experienced abuse as children had a higher risk for each of the pregnancy-related risk factors that were examined. Surprisingly, though, those risk factors accounted for only 7% of the increased likelihood of having a child with autism among women who were abused.

Given that these factors accounted for so little of the association between mother’s experience of abuse and risk of autism in her children, the authors speculated that other factors may be playing a role. One possibility, they said, is that long-lasting effects of abuse on women’s biological systems, such as the immune system and stress-response system, are responsible for increasing their likelihood of having a child with autism. More research is needed to tease out the mechanisms involved in the maternal childhood abuse-autism link, the authors said.

“Childhood abuse is associated with a wide array of health problems in the person who experiences it, including both mental health outcomes like depression and anxiety, and physical health outcomes like obesity and lung disease. Our research suggests that the effects of childhood abuse may also reach across generations,” said senior author Marc Weisskopf, associate professor of environmental and occupational epidemiology at HSPH.

Given the findings in this study, the authors suggest increasing efforts to prevent childhood abuse, and suggest that clinicians focus more strongly on limiting pregnancy-related autism risk factors, particularly among women who experienced abuse in childhood.

31 Comments on "Women Abused as Children More Likely to Have Children With Autism"

  1. Liam_McGonagle | Jun 7, 2013 at 1:56 pm |

    But of course. Not to be brutally reductive about this, but Pavlov established the underlying theory here long ago.

    On the other hand, it might be important to take the phenom of abuse more seriously, by stipulating that all forms of negative feedback do not necessarily constitute abuse. The typically lop-sided physical size of men in comparison to women alone gives a strong presumption of abuse for any case presented, but I don’t think it should always be a completely unrebuttable position.

    I am inclined to believe that it is always or almost always wrong for a man to hit a woman. I can imagine a case of self defense, but have to believe that it would only with extreme rarity come into actual practice.

    It is my practical experience with children, however, that their incomplete appreciation or respect for the social space of others will almost always neccesitate some form of corporal punish at some time or other during their development. Hopefully this period does not last long.

    Certainly the discipline of children will not demand the breaking of bones, shedding of blood or use of heavy blunt instruments, but it also cannot be satisfied with some kind of watered-down ‘talk-therapy’ that assumes an uneducated child somehow has the sophistication of the habitues of 19th century Parisian literary salons.

    • You’re pitching a hard line, not one that I disagree with, but one I don’t see many accepting nowadays.

      • Daniel Gill | Jun 7, 2013 at 3:05 pm |

        Most important thing when raising kids is leisure. Not enough parents play with their kids. Family Game night whether it is magic the gathering or chess or arkham horror or settlers of catan is a way to be close to your children and the biggest concerns of their little world which is generally having fun. too many parents think they are too old for their kids or overall dont empathize with their own kids. not empathizing and having fun with your kids is among the worst form of child abuse.

        it is also an opportunity to teach your kids important values and strategy like planning ahead, thinking ahead, competition, challenging themselves, etc

        one of my favourite parenting essays is written by Anton LaVey author of the Satanic Bible. He characterizes child abuse as making a kid learn piano when what he really wants is an accordion. Something like that. Putting your needs and wants onto your children. Even at 5 or 6 years old or younger, your kid already knows better than you as to waht they want in life.

        Moral of the story is never underestimate your kids. Dont totally spoil them but dont deny them the life that they want.

        • Many lack the intention prior to creating and therefore run into situations where they lack time and or energy to play or even spend time with their children.

          • Simon Valentine | Jun 7, 2013 at 7:04 pm |

            and of those, which 1% actually have it miraculously occur to them that “hey this child has X and requires Y”

            how did they “learn” their wrong and incomplete, non medical, interfering, damaging idea of what “X” is and what “Y” does

            people sell people ideas about people
            “it’s a program”
            “it’s justified by this metaphor”
            “here, here’s a …
            apophatic sort of autism

            the problem is indeed the generation that raised
            not the generation that raises

            and yes
            past tense couldn’t be any more painful to the true
            a measure by which to apply it into another
            and raze
            only to see once again
            pain was if only one hand in a shadow

            people even sell people people ideas
            and that’s still simple
            considering they’re all lying sales personnel
            and victims

            and god said
            let there be planet victim
            and it had gravity


          • Daniel Gill | Jun 8, 2013 at 5:55 pm |

            you can scan someone’s brain and tell whether or not they are autistic

            its not like other diagnosis of mental illness

            before I was diagnosed had lots of tests and EEG etc

          • charlotte9 | Jun 9, 2013 at 4:27 pm |

            I’m not sure I buy the concept that because you can see a certain pattern in the brain, that means that a person IS that pattern. Who says the pattern is static? Are there consistent scans being taken throughout the course of the patients’ lives?

            Who says the pattern is an “illness”? Isn’t that a completely subjective opinion? Does the patient feel ill, or does the patient simply feel as though they do not have the same pattern as the surrounding society? Is a minority pattern an “illness” by default? What if the majority population had the brain pattern currently labeled as “autistic”?

            I understand and believe that there are huge differences between different “patterns” (I even believe I’m pretty good at figuring out if someone happens to have a particular pattern–maybe I should have been a psychologist) but I have a STRONG dislike of the automatic assumption that “different” is necessarily “maladaptive”.

            My reasons are absolutely personal: I was diagnosed late in life as ADD, but I feel that I merely have a genetic tendency to a set of behavior patterns which are common for my family and were never a “problem” until the modern age (i.e. “ADD” didn’t really stop anyone from getting up at the crack of dawn and balancing the 1000+ tasks needed to efficiently run a farm…might have even helped, in some instances).

        • Apathesis | Jun 8, 2013 at 9:54 am |

          I played soccer for ten years against my will. I protested every season that they not sign me up again. They did not listen that I’d rather play football and would sign me up and not tell me until the week before the new season. It was not until high school that I could get out of soccer and finally try football.

          When I wanted to join the band and play drums, they forced me to play trumpet. I was called a ‘quitter’ and a ‘wimp’ when I decided to play the tuba six years later. Too bad the tuba was actually an instrument I was interested in and was a challenge to play. How dare I play a new instrument that provides a new challenge and interests me?

          Oh, and it’s not like I wasn’t called a faggot, retard, imbecile, or loser by my father quite a bit growing up. For a liberal atheist Democrat, he’s quite the elitist hypocrite and a racist one to boot.

          I don’t know how my mother puts up with his verbal abuse.

          • Daniel Gill | Jun 8, 2013 at 1:09 pm |

            Yeah I can relate. I wanted a drum set or a guitar. they wouldn’t get me one for years and years and years. I remember the day vividly I was at my older cousin’s place, and he had a guitar under the bed, I opened the guitar case and inside was a sparkling ruby red or cherry red guitar. was like buried treasure. but it wasnt mine. could have been.

            oh and I am autistic.

            anyway.. if I had been given license to learn to play guitar, my life would be very different today. would have gotten more pussy too.

          • Oh man . . . I am, ahem, middle age, and until I discovered ayahuasca, I was still dealing with stupid amounts of psychic baggage and shit from my fucked up childhood; PTSD, anxiety, depression, night terrors, ridiculous amounts of ANGER and self-loathing. When I think about it, and from what various therapists have told me, it is a wonder that me and my surviving siblings function half as well as we do. People who have dealt with much less, typically don’t fare nearly half as well as we have. Usually they up dead at an early age, in jail, homeless, or in a mental institution.
            Still don’t feel like I have totally resolved all of that, but I am much better than I was, that much is certain. Still have much work to do.
            In fact, I am doing another 10-day ayahuasca dieta in mid-July.
            La lucha continua.

        • Calypso_1 | Jun 10, 2013 at 2:17 am |

          I was taught Cold War nuclear brinkmanship games. Does that count?

      • Simon Valentine | Jun 7, 2013 at 6:55 pm |

        a compact line with difficult pathing?

        as if medical diagnosis wasn’t young enough
        to not have autism
        and diagnose what concerts them to be wrong
        at best also being at worst
        for in the middle there is no solution to be had
        upper middle class mercenaries
        seeking proof of the butterfly effect of their rapist ego
        not Doctors, Jackal. Hydes.

        finding themselves diagnosed with an acute case of misplace(d) belief in “observer effect”, what may be simply “arrogance” or “the core human evil”, to whatever effect it may be, it’s never about rape (or whathavewehere) but rather competition, lies, deceit, ignorance, and misplaced belief.

        there is no autism
        any more or less than seeing is believing is a disease
        that should be traded for autism

        Human Resources

        the hole true meaning
        to Mr. Hyde’s lack of discipline
        and furthermore
        Mr. Anderson
        what’ll really cook your noodle…

        is seeing yourself see that which would have been seen to be a miracle degrade those who have hindered us, unto and as their punishment of God. a cure that cures two.

        • This is in reply to your comment to me. It got auto flagged for moderation, because disqus is Hal 9000. anyhow to answer you.

          I like your last line the most. I still kinda don’t understand what you
          are fully saying, but I think it’s something like people sometimes just
          are different, and many times they are not given the attention or
          education they need. All because some people have this idea of how it is
          or isn’t. Stop me if I am wrong.

          • Simon Valentine | Jun 7, 2013 at 8:39 pm |

            that is indeed one leg if we are to Frankenstein in metaphor examination

            if you’re prepped for jump, the PSI of quantum phsyics and its merger with psionic, whatever it may or may not be, apophosis not discluded (lol) is some real magic, and it can help people, or it can continue like it does from time to time – sometimes people call it wild or villain, crime or the good ‘ol ravaging savage. but here lessons are already sown – and the sarcast behind the curtain “what are you going to do? save them all? make them all the same? visit them all when you have knowledge of the problem that it would be to do so and that your life span isn’t long enough to do so?”. character is psi is immortal (should not be) {should not be} [gravity]. whatever the hell did this to us, even the ancient dead knew, on every continent. we are injections’ contents spilled into what may fit and fitting.

            as for the rest, there is not always sufficient resource to fulfill the requests of need … may yet be merely another idea of how it is or isn’t … when in fact that also is wielded as the weapon to harm those who may not necessarily need the “harm” “resource”. this part seems reminiscent of the “teen” or “rebel” or “hunter” ideas.

            harm actually heals undead, but that’s like a qauntum fourth wall that has itself done acid. and not everyone has the ideas that are the tools necessary to chisel their inner selves, or to create the universe in the self, or simply to have one moment of peace.

            to zoom way out, it’s the same issue with law. people acumen. they think there’s this way of the voiceforcepower that is [insert whatever]. and it’s exactly that fact that it is insert whatever that too many people don’t realize … or stop too soon or too short (work against their self, sometimes adamantly, as a sort of extroverted autism spell rather than the introverted autism spell). people don’t realize what magic their casting, sometimes to the effect of being programmed autonomous sorcerers of sorcerers (D&D Thay? heh.), and maybe even for better or worse that this is either way, that they may have no leader! no programmer. that another may tell them that a programmer is required. that they may be that one. born of ourselves before we came alive.

            a ball of yarn too difficult, yet we exist as that which is still so much more difficult, nonetheless.

      • Liam_McGonagle | Jun 8, 2013 at 2:44 pm |

        Fair play. I didn’t expect many takers, but neither did I think that meant having to hide, either.

    • 1) Your apocryphal experience with children does not invalidate the results of the scientific study outlined in the article.

      2) There are forms of negative feedback that are nonviolent.

      3) The disrespect for the social space of others committed by children is far less than the disrespect committed by adults when they beat children.

      4) The difference between beating a child and breaking bones or shedding blood and beating a child without breaking bones or shedding blood is far less than the difference between beating a child without breaking bones or shedding blood and “watered-down ‘talk-therapy’ that assumes an uneducated child somehow has the sophistication of the habitues of 19th century Parisian literary salons.” (See #2)

      • Liam_McGonagle | Jun 8, 2013 at 2:43 pm |

        If you disagree with someone, do so honestly, please.

        ‘Apocryphal’ means ‘hidden’ or ‘of unknown provenance’. You and I have corresponded for something like 3 years now, and I have been very frank and open about my experiences, so this situation is hardly ‘apocryphal’.

        You are either intentionally slandering me as a liar or merely being sloppy with your language, neither of which becomes you.

        The rest of your comment amounts to little more than a string of bald statements, proporting to be indisputable fact but that in reality are unsupported by so much as uncorroborated experience–far closer to the ‘apocrypha’ you accuse me of than anything I have ever written.

        You and I may disagree, but at least I provide support for my opinion and do not launch upon a campaign of character assassination. I am disappointed in you.

        • I meant to use the word “anecdotal.”

          Your drivel about Parisian salons and masters degrees are two of the most ludicrous straw men I’ve ever read, and propping them up as the only alternatives to beating children is a ham-fisted false dilemma.

          Your use of such arguments, as well as your apparent denial of the findings of neurologists and psychologists, leads me to no longer trust your judgment or perceptions.

          It is also my belief that those who beat children have a lack of character. There are children who are raised without violence and do not end up spoiled brats.

          • Liam_McGonagle | Jun 10, 2013 at 9:43 am |

            “It is also my belief . . . ”

            That is all you needed to say. You didn’t need to ramble on and on pointlessly veering into (so you say) errant slander. You have no rigorous factual basis for your position. It is merely a ‘belief’.

            Constructing false straw men of your own by acritically and slanderously equating corporal punishment with abuse will hardly earn you the credibility you say you want.

          • “It is also my belief” refers to my opinion that those who beat children have a lack of character, not the overwhelming scientific evidence that beating children has negative effects on brain development. I provided links to some of that evidence in our conversation here: http://disinfo.com/2013/06/leading-neuroscientist-religious-fundamentalism-may-be-a-mental-illness-that-can-be-cured/#comment-919934005 and can provide much more if you wish, but you seemed to ignore the evidence and countered only with more weird theory and abstraction.

            Equating “asswhoopings” (a word that implies sadistic desire to me), beatings and causing welts with abuse is neither a straw man nor slander, because most people define abuse as doing harm to someone. An occasional swat on the behind or two may not cause damage, but the more pain is inflicted, the more the brain is affected. (Again, I can provide links to the evidence of this if you wish.) My opinion that those who beat children are cowards, fools, and/or don’t handle their anger well is merely a moral judgment on my part because I don’t believe harming children is compassionate or dignified.

          • Liam_McGonagle | Jun 11, 2013 at 10:52 am |

            “My OPINION that those who beat children are cowards, fools, and/or don’t handle their anger . . . ”

            Okay. I’ve given up on hoping that you’ll apologize to me for your insults. It seems that your own mere opinion, as opposed to considered experience is good enough for you.

            You’re better than everyone else, and can insult others with impunity because you are perfect and can see into the mind of God himself. I accept that you truly belive this.

            But know this: You haven’t seen into my mind at all. Or, for that matter, displayed even a basic ability to read English.

            You continually, and conveniently ignore or are unable to understand the basic difference I constantly draw between corporal correction on principle and the indulgence of personal emotions.

            My parents beat me plenty, but never when it was unwarranted or just for kicks. Your sloppy propaganda is a perfectly ignorant and complete insult to them.

            I have profound philosophical disagreements with them, but never, NEVER ONCE, did I believe that I was struck merely because they wanted to get their jollies off. They had a point to make, and they made it. When they were done, they stopped.

            I know they disliked these episodes as much as I did, maybe even more, because to their minds’ eye my behavior reflected failure of their own childrearing efforts.

            Only a really arrogant PR*CK thinks he can see into the hearts of every man, woman and child on the planet, living and dead, and condemn them, as you do, for not coming up to your own fantasy notion of perfection.

            Dude, I used to like a lot of what you write. Now I see you as just a smug little jerk.

          • I gave three possible motives for people who beat children; that’s far from claiming to see into the hearts of all humanity. Perhaps I should include honest ignorance as a possible motive, especially for those of previous generations and those who get their morality from the Old Testament. But really, it’s those of the present day who ignore and/or deny the mounting scientific evidence of corporal punishment’s harmfulness whom I don’t give the benefit of the doubt.

    • One could even go beyond Pavlov…as far back as Jean-Baptiste Lamarck for a version of this – only he assumed it was the whole of evolution, whereas modern-day epigenetics would imply that such changes would only apply to a certain degree within the limits of the genome.

  2. Simon Valentine | Jun 7, 2013 at 7:07 pm |


    of who needs a good beat down

    welcome to the Rift

    you look like a ton

    there’s a house available

    just commune with the jarl

    maybe you’ll learn the voice

    and water all us flowers with your polymath

  3. BuzzCoastin | Jun 7, 2013 at 8:19 pm |

    there’s a lot of this kind of science out there
    a kind of deterministic bent
    which implies that once you’re damaged as a kid
    you can’t recover or go beyond your upbringing

    > Given the findings in this study,
    the authors suggest increasing efforts to prevent childhood abuse

  4. For those of us familiar with the concept of epigenetics, the idea of abuse leading to damaged children much later in life makes sense. I can even see a mechanism – actions by genes to adapt to the abuse lead to a more “passive” rejection (ways of physically slogging off the abuse, instead of stopping it right off), which leads to negative effects on newborns.

    One wonders of some of the symptoms of autism can be translated as extensions of attempts of the mother to protect her psyche when she was a child:
    Subjection to unwanted touch by the mother leads to sensitivity to touch and loud noises in the child.
    Attempts to dull and shield from the pain in the mother lead to an inability to pay attention to the world (and, by extension, ease of shutting it out) in the child.
    Enforced silence in the mother as a child leads to the inability of the child to speak when he/she should.
    Add to all this the fact that sons are MUCH more likely to be autistic than daughters, and this all makes sense.

    Some of the side articles lead to other results of sexual abuse – depression in children, heart attacks in men, and higher levels of psycho-somatic illnesses in the victims.

    • charlotte9 | Jun 9, 2013 at 4:06 pm |

      …That sounds intuitively correct, even if I don’t fully understand epigenetics (I thought I had read somewhere that evolution doesn’t work like that, but I don’t remember where)…

      On a side note, there is a breed of cat called “Ragdoll”, which is known for it’s incredible sweetness and docility. They are also named for their unusual trait of going completely slack when picked up.

      The mis/understanding of evolutionary processes involved in the breed’s backstory makes the claim that the first litter were born to a mother which was hit by a car…and this somehow created super-docile kittens…maybe the story is not so far from the truth? Are these Autistic kittens? (Well, some cat-equivelant, since they don’t seem to *dislike* touch…they just, uh, “go elsewhere”…this is just making me sad…) O_o

  5. howiebledsoe | Jun 8, 2013 at 10:21 am |

    Aw, C’mon!!! Why is there such a rapid rise in autism in the last decade? I cannot believe that there was much less abuse of young women before that period. Why is the west leading the world in autism, and not, say, Pakistan, Afganistan or Saudi Arabia? You don’t have to be a neuroscientist to smell something fishy here….

  6. Can we be sure that these are genuine cause and effect relationships? I mean, honestly…one could suggest that socio-economic status also plays a part in increasing all the above listed issues, by affecting diet, childhood/home environment, lack of medical care, emotional/mental support, location (urban squalor vs suburban) and toxicity thereof, safety/quality of products in the household etc etc etc. In many ways, childhood abuse (like unto depression, substance abuse, obesity, anxiety etc) is an additional symptom of a single illness…impoverishment and the desperation bred by same, which has a severe and measurable impact on all who experience it.

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