Autism

Autism, ADHD risk not linked to prenatal exposure to antidepressants

pregnant woman
SEEKING TREATMENT Pregnant women coping with depression now may have one less thing to worry about: Prenatal exposure to antidepressants doesn’t raise autism risk, two new studies suggest.

Taking antidepressants during pregnancy does not increase the risk of autism or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, two new large studies suggest. Genetic or environmental influences, rather than prenatal exposure to the drugs, may have a greater influence on whether a child will develop these disorders. The studies are published online April 18 in JAMA.

Clinically, the message is “quite reassuring for practitioners and for mothers needing to make a decision about antidepressant use during pregnancy,” says psychiatrist Simone Vigod, a coauthor of one of the studies. Past research has questioned the safety of expectant moms taking antidepressants (SN: 6/5/10, p. 22).

“A mother’s mood disturbances during pregnancy are a big public health issue — they impact the health of mothers and their children,” says Tim Oberlander, a developmental pediatrician at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. About one in 10 women develop a major depressive episode during pregnancy. “All treatment options should be explored. Nontreatment is never an option,” says Oberlander, who coauthored a commentary, also published in JAMA.

Untreated depression during pregnancy creates risks for the child, including poor fetal growth, preterm birth and developmental problems. Some women may benefit from psychotherapy alone. A more serious illness may require antidepressants. “Many of us have started to look at longer term child outcomes related to antidepressant exposure because mothers want to know about that in the decision-making process,” says Vigod, of Women’s College Hospital in Toronto.

Previous studies indicated that the use of antidepressants came with its own developmental risks: autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, premature birth and…

Sesame Street Introduces Julia, a New Muppet With Autism

There’s a new Muppet on Sesame Street: Julia. She’s a “preschool girl with autism who does things a little differently when playing with her friends, the lovable Elmo, Abby Cadabby, and Grover,” the Sesame Workshop told ABC News in 2015, when Julia made her debut—in digital form—as the face of a broad set of autism-awareness tools the Sesame Workshop had rolled out called “Sesame Street and Autism: See Amazing in All Children.” But based on her popularity online, Julia is about to become a full-fledged Muppet when she joins the rest of the gang on Sesame Street in April.

In the storybooks, Julia explains to her Sesame Street friends how she likes to play a little differently from them.

“If you’re five years old, and see another kid not making eye contact with you, you may think that child doesn’t want to play with you. But that’s not the case,” Sherrie Westin, Sesame Workshop’s executive vice president of global impacts and philanthropy,…

Yale Researchers Find That Autism Genes Helped Us to Become Smarter

Article Image

Those with autism face distinct challenges. These usually have to do with certain social deficits. That might be why the results of a new study appear a bit puzzling. Genes linked to autism spectrum disorders (ASD) were actually preserved through the process of evolution, Yale researchers concluded. These genes actually made us smarter.

If you find these results strange, consider the large numbers of scientists and engineers known to have Asperger’s syndrome. There are autistic savants as well, as the movie Rain Man can attest, which was based on a true story. Or perhaps you’ve seen the work of mind-blowing artist Stephen Wiltshire, who can draw panoramic scenes of whole cities with perfect detail, from his memory alone.

This was a genome-wide study, zeroing in on gene variants associated with ASD. Researchers examined 5,000 cases of autism and analyzed the genome of each participant. They focused on evolutionary gene selection, particularly on which genes were positively selected. One clue which led researchers to these findings was that, more genes associated with autism were preserved by evolution than would have been through sheer randomness.

Autistic…