Father’s Age May Increase Risk of Autism

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • A mother’s age during pregnancy has long been linked to disabilities such as Down’s syndrome, but little has been linked to the age of the father. Recent research, however, may show that, as a father ages the risk of having a child with autism, including Asperger’s syndrome, increases.


    Autism is thought to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors, however, the exact cause is still not understood. One such factor may be the age of the father. The study, published in the journal Nature, indicates that as a man ages, random mutations in his genetic material increase: a 20 year old man had an average of 20 random mutations but by age 40, this number was 65.

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    The number of children diagnosed with autism has significantly increased over the past few decades. A In the 1970s and 1980s the rate of autism was reported at anywhere from 1 to 3 children out of 10,000. Today, that rate is 1 in 88 children are diagnosed with autism. One theory linked to this increase is vaccinations, however, this theory is not considered to be backed by scientific evidence.


    Researchers believe that the possible connection between the age of the father and autism might better explain the increase, at least in part. In the United States, fathers age 40 and older have increased by 30 percent since 1980. This doesn’t account for the total increase, but may contribute to 20 to 30 percent of autism diagnoses.


    An analysis of other studies also showed a possible link between the father’s age and the risk of autism. Researchers looked at three separate studies and found that de novo genetic mutations, those which are not inherited but occur near or during conception, were present in greater numbers in children later diagnosed with autism. All three studies also showed that these mutations increased with the fathers’ age. The number of mutations from the mother’s side remained constant, no matter what her age.


    Some parents may find this useful when family planning, for example, Alexey Kondrashov, University of Michigan, wrote in an editorial accompanying the study, “collecting the sperm of young adult men and cold-storing it for later use could be a wise individual decision.” [1] However, according to Evan Eichler, University of Washington, “You have to understand that the vast majority of these mutations have no consequences, and that there are tons of guys in their 50s who have healthy children.” [2]




    [2] “Father’s Age Is Linked to Risk of Autism and Schizophrenia,” 2012, Aug 22, Benedict Carey, The New York Times


    [1] “Genetics: The Rate of Human Mutation,” 2012, Aug 23, Alexey Kondrashov, Nature 488, 467-468


    “Scientists Link Gene Mutation to Autism Risk,” 2012, April 4, Benedict Carey, The New York Times


    “What’s Going On? The Question of Time Trends in Autism,” Nov/Dec2004, Mark F. Blaxill, Public Health Report

Published On: September 11, 2012