BOSTON (CBS) – A new study may show a connection between abuse and autism.

The study from Harvard School of Public Health published in the Journal of the American Medical Association says 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.

WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Diane Stern talks with the study’s author Andrea Roberts

The study’s author Andrea Roberts says women who experience the most serious abuse had a three-and-a-half times greater chance of having a child with autism than women who were not abused.

The study expanded on what doctors already know about abuse victims and identifies a new pregnancy risk factor for abuse victims.

“Women who experienced abuse are more likely to be overweight in adulthood, smoke in adulthood and maybe have less prenatal care so I thought it may be possible that there may be an association there,” Roberts told WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Diane Stern.

Roberts says researchers have always known that abuse leads to biological changes such as experiencing more inflammation in the body and changing fight-or-flight responses to be more reactive to stress.

“Abused women in general are at a higher risk of having these pregnancy-related risk factors that do affect their child’s health in many ways,” Roberts said.

But Roberts cautions that women who were abused as children only have a slighter elevated risk of having a child with autism.

“You need to keep in mind even among the women who experienced the most severe abuse, only one in 50 women had a child with autism,” Roberts said.

The study will appear in the May 2013 print issue of JAMA Psychiatry.


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