Could autism be linked to abnormal placentas?

One of every fifty school children in the United States will be diagnosed with autism. Unfortunately, identifying the disease can take medical experts years to do, and can delay medical treatment.

But that could soon change.

New research may help doctors predict a child’s risk of developing autism at birth.

Skiing alongside Jaya Dominici, 12, you wouldn’t know that she’s severely autistic. That is, unless you try to talk to her.

Maria Dominici suspected her daughter was autistic at 18 months, but she wasn’t diagnosed until three.

"It was really like a baseball bat right to the head, because you know it's going to be forever,” said Maria.

A new study examining the placenta, the organ that provides nutrients to the baby from the mother, may help doctors diagnose autism shortly after birth.

Researchers analyzed placentas from 217 births and found that in families at high genetic risk for having an autistic child, there were more of these abnormal folds and creases.

They won’t know how many children whose placentas were studied will have autism for another year. But it has given researchers hope.

"I think this one has the potential to affect many, many children," said Dr. Harvey Kliman.


REPORT: MB# 3663

BACKGROUND: Autism is one of a group of serious developmental problems called autism spectrum disorders (ASD) that appear in early childhood - usually before the age of three. Though symptoms and severity vary, all autism spectrum disorders affect a child's ability to communicate and interact with others. While there is no cure for autism, intensive, early treatment can make a big difference in the lives of many children with the disorder. (SOURCE:

SYMPTOMS: Children with autism generally have problems in three crucial areas of development - social interaction, language, and behavior. Each child with autism is likely to have a unique pattern of behavior; however, these are some common autism symptoms:

Social skills:
* Fails to respond to his or her name
* Resists cuddling and holding

* Loses previously acquired ability to say words or sentences
* Speaks with an abnormal tone or rhythm - may use a singsong voice or robot-like speech

* Performs repetitive movements, such as rocking, spinning or hand-flapping
* May have odd food preferences, such as eating only a few foods, or craving items that are not food, like chalk or dirt

LATEST MEDICAL BREAKTHROUGH: Early intervention is essential for treating children with autism. However, the developmental disorder may be tough for doctors to diagnose at an early age. Many children do not receive a final diagnosis until they reach four years old, but now researchers at Yale University believe they have found a way around that. By examining the placenta -- an organ that provides nutrients from the mother to the baby -- at birth, this may reveal clues about her new child's risk for developing the developmental disorder. (SOURCE:

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Harvey J. Kliman, MD, PhD
Yale University

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