Dr. Susan Hyman, a pediatrician and autism expert at the University of Rochester Medical Center, says that it is becoming increasingly clear that autism and related disorders are not one disease but a collection of “similar symptoms caused by different things, stemming from a complex interaction of environmental and genetic factors.”
And the more researchers delve into the causes of autism, the more mysterious it seems to become. But according to Byran King, an autism expert at Seattle Children’s Hospital, the results of recent a Danish study suggests that at least some of the injuries that contribute to autism take place before or shortly after birth.
The Danish study, involving nearly 734,000 children found that babies with jaundice were 67% more likely to be diagnosed with autism. For babies born between October and March, the risk was even higher.
The results don’t suggest that jaundice, a relatively common condition in which the skin takes on yellowish tint due to high levels of bilirubin, causes autism but reveals that the two conditions are often found together.
What’s the connection and why is it stronger in babies born between October and March? Nobody can say for sure, but the researchers suspect it might have something to do with mothers being more likely to be exposed to infections during cold and flu season. Or, it could be that babies born during the dark winter months are more susceptible to jaundice due to lower exposure to sunlight, which breaks down bilirubin.
Whatever it means, Hyman says that parents of jaundiced babies should not be overly concerned. Jaundice occurs in about 60% of full term babies and 80% of preemies, most of whom are not later diagnosed with autism.