There are many factors that contribute to autism. While some experts will lead you to believe that genetics are to blame, many other experts are hard at working identifying a number of environmental contributors to the disorder. I discussed many of these in my book, The Road to Perfect Health. The truth is more likely somewhere in the middle. Both genes and environment play a role in most health conditions, autism included.
A recent study published in the journal Pediatrics found that boys with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and those with developmental delays were more likely to have been exposed to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) while in the womb as a result of antidepressant medication taken by the mother. The study looked at data from 966 mother-child pairs with children aged two to five. Most of the children in the study were boys.
“We found prenatal SSRI [antidepressant] exposure was nearly three times as likely in boys with ASD relative to typical development, with the greatest risk when exposure took place during the first trimester,” stated Li-Ching Lee, PhD, MPH, one of the researchers. “SSRI was also elevated among boys with developmental disorder, with the strongest exposure effect in the third trimester.”
This study is evidence that prenatal exposure to these drugs may put some children at risk of developing an autism spectrum or developmental disorder. The risks and benefits of SSRI use during pregnancy should be carefully weighed by physicians because mental disorders can also be a risk to infants while in the womb. More research will be needed to determine safer treatment methods for depression during pregnancy.