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Pre-term birth and autism link

A United States study looking at children born more than three months prematurely provided fresh evidence yesterday linking pre-term birth and autism.

These children were about two to three times as likely to show signs of autism at two years of age as measured in a standard screening tool compared to other children, the researchers wrote in the Journal of Pediatrics.

Autism refers to a group of developmental problems known as autism spectrum disorders that appear in early childhood and harm one's ability to communicate and interact with others.

Its causes remain unclear, and experts have pointed to possible genetic and environmental factors.

Karl Kuban of Boston University School of Medicine and Boston Medical Center, who led the study, said that the increased risk for autism indicated in these children may not be directly caused by being born prematurely.

Instead, it is possible that whatever causes a child to have autism also may force an early birth, Kuban said.

Following earlier research that suggested the link, the team followed 988 US children born prematurely at least three months before their due date.

At two years old, the children were evaluated using a screening method in which they were rated on a checklist of 23 behaviors for signs of autism. This tool flags children who may have autism but is not seen as definitive.


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