Objectives: To investigate the prevalence, correlates, and antecedents of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) in extremely preterm children.
Study design: We conducted a prospective study of all births <26 weeks gestation in the United Kingdom and Ireland in 1995. Of 307 survivors at 11 years, 219 (71%) were assessed and compared with 153 term-born classmates. Parents completed the Social Communication Questionnaire (SCQ) to assess autism spectrum symptoms, and ASD were diagnosed by using a psychiatric evaluation. An IQ test and clinical evaluation were also administered. Longitudinal outcome data were available for extremely preterm children.
Results: Extremely preterm children had significantly higher SCQ scores than classmates (mean difference, 4.6 points; 95% CI, 3.4-5.8). Sixteen extremely preterm children (8%) were assigned an ASD diagnosis, compared with none of the classmates. By hospital discharge, male sex, lower gestation, vaginal breech delivery, abnormal cerebral ultrasound scanning results, and not having had breast milk were independently associated with autism spectrum symptoms. By 6 years, independent associates were cognitive impairment, inattention and peer problems, withdrawn behavior at 2.5 years, and not having had breast milk.
Conclusions: Extremely preterm children are at increased risk for autism spectrum symptoms and ASD in middle childhood. These symptoms and disorders were associated with neurocognitive outcomes, suggesting that ASD may result from abnormal brain development in this population.
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