The association between prenatal psychosocial factors and autism spectrum disorder in offspring at 3 years: a prospective cohort study

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Purpose: Few studies of risk factors for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have been prospective in design or investigated the role of psychosocial factors measured during pregnancy. We aimed to investigate associations between prenatal psychosocial factors and risk of ASD in offspring, as part of a multicenter prospective cohort study of more than 2000 mother–child pairs. Methods: Nulliparous women aged 18–35 years, living in Pennsylvania, USA, were interviewed during pregnancy and multiple times postpartum over the course of a 3-year period. There were 2388 mothers who completed the Screen for Social Interaction Toddler Version (SSI-T), a measure of risk of ASD, when their child was 3-years old. Multivariable logistic regression models were used to investigate the associations between prenatal psychosocial factors—including total scores on three scales (social-support, stress and depression), trouble paying for basic needs, mental illness diagnosis and use of antidepressants—and risk of ASD in offspring at the age of 3-years, controlling for relevant confounding variables. Results: There were 102 children (4.3%) who were scored as at-risk of ASD at 3-years. Prenatal psychosocial factors that were significantly associated with risk of ASD in the adjusted models were lower social-support (p < 0.001); stress (p = 0.003): depression (< 0.001), trouble paying for basic needs (p = 0.012), mental illness diagnosis (p = 0.016), and use of antidepressants (p < 0.001). Conclusion: These findings suggest that maternal experience of adverse psychosocial factors during pregnancy may be important intrauterine exposures related to the pathogenesis of ASD.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalSocial psychiatry and psychiatric epidemiology
StateAccepted/In press - 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Epidemiology
  • Health(social science)
  • Social Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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