a pregnant woman's stomachAs many as 1 in 50 children in the United States are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Scientists are still working to understand what factors cause autism. As such, many studies focus on how environmental factors during pregnancy impact a child’s risk of developing autism. A new study from the University of Vermont investigated whether there was a link between assisted reproduction methods, like in vitro fertilization, and ASD. The researchers found that children born as a result of assisted reproduction methods do not have a higher risk factor for autism than children conceived naturally.

The research team used genetics to evaluate a possible connection between assisted reproduction methods and the prevalence of ASD. They used previously collected DNA data from the Simons Simplex Collection, a project conducted through the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative. The collection included DNA for 2,760 children with autism. The DNA had either copy number variations or published gene mutations in their DNA—both variations associated with autism. The children’s DNA was from two groups: children born through natural conception and children born through assisted reproduction methods including in vitro fertilization and intrafallopian transfers.

After comparing the incidence of autism-related genetic variations in the two groups of children, the researchers discovered that there were no statistically significant differences in the number of genetic variations between them. This suggests that children conceived using assisted reproduction methods do not have a higher risk of developing autism than children conceived through natural methods.

This study contributes to understanding the causes of autism by eliminating one possible environmental risk. The findings may help parents seeking assisted reproduction methods to make more informed family-planning decisions.

This research is published in the journal Fertility and Sterility.

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