Autism More Common in Children of Older Fathers?

kids of older dads may be more prone to mental disorders such as bipolar disorder, autism and schizophrenia Many men postpone having children until they are financially established. As a result, they are becoming parents in their 30’s, 40’s and even 50’s. We’ve known for years that women aged 40 and over run a greater risk of having children who are autistic. Now, according to a recently published study, the age of the father may also be a factor in the increase of mental disorders such as bipolar disorder, autism and schizophrenia.

Science reporter, Benedict Carey reported on this hotly debated issue in a recent New York Times article. The study was conducted in Sweden and compared siblings within families. The children born when the father was young differed from the children that came years later. They found that the risk for mental disorders rose as the paternal age increased.

Why may this be happening? The article explains:

“Any increased risk due solely to paternal age is most likely a result of the accumulation of genetic mutations in sperm cells. Unlike women, who age with a limited number of eggs, men have to replenish their supply of sperm cells. Studies suggest that the cells’ repeated reproductions lead to the accumulation of random errors over time, called de novo mutations. Most such mutations are harmless, geneticists say, but some have been linked to mental disorders.”

Should you be concerned? This certainly shouldn’t panic you. We have to be careful how studies are interpreted. It would be unfounded to jump to the conclusion that producing children after the age of 30 means they are certain to having mental disorders. But it’s good to be aware that this may be a contributing factor. And it should be included in your discussion as a couple about whether or not you want to have children.

There’s no guarantee that any child will be born without serious health problems. The issue is how will you handle the challenge if your child does suffer a birth defect or has a mental disorder. My advice is not to worry excessively, but if you see indications that your child is not responding as he or she should be, seek the advice of a professional who is trained in diagnosing such disorders. Working closely with your child’s pediatrician, these professionals will be able to assess the situation, educate you on what the diagnosis means and help you and your child to cope as a family.

Are you looking for guidance regarding your relationship with a family member with Asperger Syndrome? For further Autism Spectrum Disorder resources see Remote Education Asperger Relationships.

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