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Keywords:

  • Autism;
  • Asperger's syndrome;
  • PDD;
  • family history;
  • risk factors;
  • place of birth;
  • maternal age;
  • paternal age;
  • parental age;
  • psychiatric disorders;
  • immigrants

Background:  The etiology of autism is unknown. A strong genetic component has been detected but non-genetic factors may also be involved in the etiology.

Methods:  We used data from the Danish Psychiatric Central Register and the Danish Civil Registration System to study some risk factors of autism, including place of birth, parental place of birth, parental age, family history of psychiatric disorders, and paternal identity.

Results:  A total of 943,664 children younger than ten years were followed from 1994 to 2001; of those, 818 children developed autism. The highest risks of autism were found in siblings of children with autism, or Asperger‘s syndrome and other pervasive developmental disorders (PDDs), with relative risks of 22 and 13, respectively. The relative risk of autism in the child was about twice as high if the mother had been diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder. The risk of autism was associated with increasing degree of urbanisation of the child's place of birth and with increasing paternal, but not maternal, age. An increased relative risk of 1.4 was found if the mother was born outside Europe, and in children of parents who were born in different countries.

Conclusions:  The highest risk of autism was found in families with a history of autism, or Asperger‘s syndrome and other PDDs in siblings, supporting the commonly accepted knowledge that genetic factors are involved in the etiology of autism.