The Association Between Parental Age and Autism-Related Outcomes in Children at High Familial Risk for Autism

Autism Res. 2020 Jun;13(6):998-1010. doi: 10.1002/aur.2303. Epub 2020 Apr 21.


Advanced parental age is a well-replicated risk factor for autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a neurodevelopmental condition with a complex and not well-defined etiology. We sought to determine parental age associations with ASD-related outcomes in subjects at high familial risk for ASD. A total of 397 younger siblings of a child with ASD, drawn from existing prospective high familial risk cohorts, were included in these analyses. Overall, we did not observe significant associations of advanced parental age with clinical ASD diagnosis, Social Responsiveness Scale, or Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales scores. Instead, increased odds of ASD were found with paternal age < 30 years (adjusted odds ratio [AOR] = 2.83 and 95% confidence intervals [CI] = 1.14-7.02). Likewise, younger age (<30 years) for both parents was associated with decreases in Mullen Scales of Early Learning early learning composite (MSEL-ELC) scores (adjusted β = -9.62, 95% CI = -17.1 to -2.15). We also found significant increases in cognitive functioning based on MSEL-ELC scores with increasing paternal age (adjusted β associated with a 10-year increase in paternal age = 5.51, 95% CI = 0.70-10.3). Results suggest the potential for a different relationship between parental age and ASD-related outcomes in families with elevated ASD risk than has been observed in general population samples. Autism Res 2020, 13: 998-1010. © 2020 International Society for Autism Research, Wiley Periodicals, Inc. LAY SUMMARY: Previous work suggests that older parents have a greater likelihood of having a child with autism. We investigated this relationship in the younger siblings of families who already had a child with autism. In this setting, we found a higher likelihood of autism, as well as poorer cognitive scores, in the siblings with younger fathers, and higher cognitive scores in the siblings with older parents. These results suggest that parental age associations may differ based on children's familial risk for autism.

Keywords: autism; autism-related traits; high familial risk; parental age.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / epidemiology*
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / genetics*
  • Autistic Disorder / epidemiology
  • Autistic Disorder / genetics
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Maternal Age*
  • Paternal Age*
  • Prospective Studies