More Evidence That Stress During Pregnancy Can Contribute to Autism

Newborn boy crying
Photo: Jekaterina Nikitina/Getty Images

Lisa Miller’s piece last week drew an important distinction between mere worry and actual trauma when it comes to the link between stress and pregnancy during autism. In short, she argued, there isn’t much evidence that simply being a worrier during pregnancy can lead to autism, but there is evidence that severe stress of the war-zone-and-natural-disaster variety is correlated with autism. A new study in Psychiatric Research adds some weight to that idea.

A team of researchers from The Douglas Mental Health University Institute and McGill University has been studying the children of mothers who were pregnant during a 1998 ice storm in Quebec that caused widespread damage. They found, as the press release put it, that “the greater the mothers’ objective hardship from the ice storm (such as more days without electricity), and the greater the mothers’ distress about the ice storm 5 months later, the more severe their children’s autistic-like traits at 6½ years of age.”

Now, the authors noted that “most children [in the study] scored in the subclinical range,” so this is more about the prevalence of autism-related traits like certain types of tics and difficulties with social interaction than about full-blown clinical autism itself. But still, researchers are starting to get a better sense of how all this stuff works, which can only mean better information for moms.

More Evidence on Stress, Pregnancy, and Autism