Childhood Abuse Linked to Children Born With Autism

“Women who were physically, emotionally or sexually abused as children are more likely to have a child with autism, a new study suggests.

For women who suffered the most severe abuse, the risk more than tripled, the researchers found.

“This is a completely new risk factor for autism,” said lead investigator Andrea Roberts, a research associate at the Harvard School of Public Health.

“Child abuse has a horrible effect on individuals who experience it, but the effects might reach across generations,” she said. “The more abuse a woman had been exposed to in her own childhood, the more likely she was to have a child with autism.”

Even women who experienced moderate levels of abuse were 60 percent more likely to have a child with autism, she added.

Although this increased risk seems high, the absolute risk of autism associated with a mother’s exposure to abuse in childhood is very low, Roberts said.

In women who were not abused as children, fewer than one in 100 of those children had autism. Among women exposed to the highest level of abuse, two in 100 of their children had autism. “So, most of their kids don’t have autism,” she said.

Roberts cautioned that these findings only show an association.

“We can’t assert cause-and-effect,” she said. “The puzzle is to figure out what could be causing this association.”

Dr. Andrew Adesman, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at the Steven & Alexandra Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York, agreed that the unanswered question is how a mother’s abuse might be linked to her child’s chances of having autism.

“The association seems clear. What is not clear is why it’s there,” he said.

The report was published online March 20 in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a new report that found that 2 percent of children in the United States have autism, which is an increase from 2007, when the prevalence was 1.16 percent.

Interestingly, the same 2 percent prevalence of autism is exactly what Roberts found for the children of women who had been abused in childhood.

Roberts’ team collected data on more than 50,000 women who took part in the Nurses’ Health Study II.

Although not many of these women experienced severe abuse as children, many were moderately abused, the researchers found.

In fact, only about 2 percent of the women said they had experienced severe abuse, yet even the women in the top 25 percent of those who experienced moderate levels of abuse had a 60 percent chance of having a child with autism, they noted.

To be sure abuse was a critical factor, Roberts’ group looked at other risk factors known to be associated with autism, including diabetes during pregnancy, high blood pressure during pregnancy (preeclampsia) and smoking.

Although the abused women did have a higher risk of experiencing one of these other risk factors, it accounted for only 7 percent of their increased odds of having a child with autism, the investigators found.

The researchers speculate that the long-lasting effects of abuse on their immune system and stress-response system might be responsible.

Another expert, Dr. Roberto Tuchman, director of the autism and neurodevelopment program at Miami Children’s Hospital Dan Marino Center, thinks the importance of this study is that it pinpoints another group of children who might be at risk for autism.

“The study has identified an at-risk population,” he said. “This is a population we should be more aware of as being in need of early identification and intervention.”

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14 Responses to Childhood Abuse Linked to Children Born With Autism

  1. little nel says:

    Alethea, thanks for clarity about the PTSD and the subconscious suffering that it creates in a victim that is out of the control of the suffer.

  2. So does this mean that more woman have been abused because more children have autism now?

    • Alethea says:

      It’s a good question Little Bird. I know that more women have been abused than we know, because I am positive that many people are repressing sexual abuse completely, like I did. I also wonder if Autism is increasing because there are so many households without mothers, or without fathers, or the single parent is working all day, or both parents are working all day. Maybe the soul of some children just decides it wants to remain within its own company, and not converse with anyone if it cannot have a substantial relationship with its two parents. Maybe some children stick to the routines and rituals in order to feel safe when they feel unsafe in an environment they cannot control. Maybe some souls are now being born into a very frightening world….so being quiet, unsocial, and getting into obsessive routines is all they feel comfortable with.

  3. melissa lee says:

    Great article, I would love to follow this study and see what they come up with as to why this happens… I also, would like to say that, my story and most of the stories of my clients,are stories of repressed abuse or memories of just fragments.. SO, I would love to know, how does repressed memories come in to play in studies… My belief is that every other person has been raped, molested and or sodomized… Maybe, a fraction remember or they have many other parts of the abuse that are hidden even when they remember parts or even one event.. Often I find, that people will repress the earlier memories and those are the ones they do not want to touch, as they are the most difficult to transform… I also, wanted to speak to the person that left a comment that “It is not the abuse,but your response to the abuse” that keeps you in the past…
    I have many years of my own recovery along with helping countless others, heal from their abuses, and what this person does not understand is that when a person is sexually abused, enduring years of daily abuse started often as a infant, that their brain chemistry is all but altered and in fact, because of the “flight or fight” response, become handicapped as individuals from this abuse, others that do not go thru this could more easily heed the advice to “move on with your life”. It really takes a person their rest of their lives to heal from this type of abuse and a huge amount of great courage and endurance.. One is forever changed by the abuse.. and yes, there is value in the pain, but one must rise up and have righteous angry first, this must be allowed to happen, and is vital to the healing process……. xoxo Melissa Lee

    • little nel says:

      “one must rise up and have righteous angry (anger) first, this must be allowed to happen, and i vital to the healing process”

      This concept was unbelievable for me until I received hypnotherapy. My abusers scared me so bad that I fainted from fear. They made sure that they broke me before they stopped the abuse.

      I didn’t get angry because I had dissociative amnesia. I was too afraid to remember the abuse. Once I allowed my conscience mind to remember the abuse, I got angry. For me it was a battle between my fear of talking about it and the anger that I felt.

      It physically paralyzed me again, just like it did in childhood. I thought that I had “gone crazy” because it was so consuming and confusing.

      During that time of anguish, I had a dream that I was being attack again by the two matrons who wanted to keep me silent about the abuse, they cornered me and attacked me in the darkness of my room, so I couldn’t identify them, but I knew who they were, and I fought them off because I had the power to do it.

      They vanished and I never had anymore of the nightmares that I was being held down and suffocated that had plagued me since childhood after I left the county home.

      • Alethea says:

        Little Nel,

        For your consideration: It would be very helpful to other people if you could write a testimony of your experience with the therapy with Dr. De Saint Simone. I think people who are skeptical could benefit from reading your testimony; how you found her, how bad you were when you found her, how quickly you had results, and how much you have healed since you began the therapy. It would also be good to list any beneficial side-effects like more energy, more love of life, a better relationship with your husband…anything that can help others to know how tremendously powerful this therapy is.

        Love,
        Alethea

        • Grace says:

          I agree with Alethea, Little Nel. These kinds of testimonies are helpful to people who are just discovering Ysatis de Saint Simone’s website now.

          I wrote a testimonial months ago, but it has not shown up on her website (I don’t think it’s gone through moderations process). I will remind Ysatis of this next time I speak to her.

      • melissa lee says:

        I am so happy that you were able to have that dream and release the repeated nightmares.. You deserve goodness and know that it took great courage to do so…

        xoxo Melissa Lee

    • Alethea says:

      Melissa Lee,

      You are correct about people repressing the earlier memories and those are the ones they do not want to touch. They are usually the most painful.

      “I also, wanted to speak to the person that left a comment that “It is not the abuse,but your response to the abuse” that keeps you in the past…I have many years of my own recovery along with helping countless others, heal from their abuses, and what this person does not understand is that when a person is sexually abused, enduring years of daily abuse started often as a infant, that their brain chemistry is all but altered and in fact, because of the “flight or fight” response, become handicapped as individuals from this abuse, others that do not go thru this could more easily heed the advice to “move on with your life”.”

      Right on. I find that those who say it is our reaction that is harming us, are people who did not suffer early childhood rape, or prolonged abuse, or did not suffer incest. It is the cases that involve severe, prolonged sexual abuse, death threats, and incest that cause the amount of suffering that causes the intense physical and psychological problems, and thus, the years and years it takes to heal.

      However, if you lined up any abuse survivor who makes this ignorant statement about our reaction to the abuse hurting us, I could point out numerous problems that person has that are a direct result of their own unhealed abuse. They just choose to not make the connection and blow off their problems, diseases, illnesses etc. as being due to something else.

      And I have never heard anyone who has suffered PTSD tell me to ‘stop reacting to it.’ PTSD is a nightmare that no one asks for, or can get rid of by telling themselves the symptoms are just “their reaction” to having been abused. Of course it is their reaction, but it is not a conscious choice. The PTSD is subconscious and causes much suffering.

      • little nel says:

        I was told by my former therapist that there was no cure for childhood sexual abuse. I had spent thousands of dollars on therapy. The sexual abuse coupled with the cover up abuse and follow up abuse had caused me the most problems. It was a systematic progression that is commonly used by abusers.

        Dr. Saint-Simone told me that the cure needed to be addressed at the sub-conscious level first, then the healing would come.

        I suffered from painful sinus problems since childhood. When I allowed myself to remember that I fainted from fear of the matrons, and then the matrons used something strong that burned my nose, face and sinus cavities to revive me, as soon as spoke it, I felt instant relief and healing in those areas. It was a release of all that pressure and swelling under the skin in my face coupled with a feeling of elation.

        I had broken the code of silence and I did not die like I had been violently “persuaded” to believe, but was rewarded with unexpected healing. I would have never known it was possible had I not experienced it.

        I now have clear memories of the abuse without the painful traumatic reactions. The panic is gone, the nightmares are gone, the sinus problems are gone, the insomnia is gone and the night terrors are gone.

        • How long did you work with Dr. Saint- Simone? I just started working with her 🙂

          • little nel says:

            about six months because I had other issues that I wanted to confront besides the sexual abuse.

          • Alethea says:

            Remember that everyone is unique and has many different issues. The amount of time one is in the therapy with Dr. De Saint Simone depends upon how much they have already healed, if they have already had good therapy with someone else, how many abusers they had, how long the abuse lasted, how much they are blocking out, what kind of support system they have, and how much they want to work on themselves.

        • Grace says:

          Good for you Little Nel! I am so happy to hear that others are benefitting from Dr de Saint SImone’s therapy 🙂

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