Prenatal exposure to air pollution has been associated with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) risk but no study has examined associations with ASD severity or functioning. Cognitive ability, adaptive functioning, and ASD severity were assessed in 327 children with ASD from the Childhood Autism Risks from Genetics and the Environment study using the Mullen Scales of Early Learning (MSEL), the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales (VABS), and the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule calibrated severity score. Estimates of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), particulate matter (PM2.5 and PM10), ozone, and near-roadway air pollution were assigned to each trimester of pregnancy and first year of life. Increasing prenatal and first year NO2 exposures were associated with decreased MSEL and VABS scores. Increasing PM10 exposure in the third trimester was paradoxically associated with improved performance on the VABS. ASD severity was not associated with air pollution exposure.
Keywords: Air pollution; Autism spectrum disorder; Cognitive impairments; Mullen scales of early learning; Vineland adaptive behavioral scale.