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Does Alcohol During Pregnancy Cause Autism?

By November 18, 2007

The Publican, a British publication, suddenly came out yesterday with this gem:
Moderate drinking during pregnancy could be the hidden cause of thousands of serious childhood disorders including autism, Scotland's leading authority on alcohol and health warned last night. Dr Maggie Watts, vice chairman on alcohol for the Scottish Association of Alcohol and Drug Action Teams, fears that even low levels of drinking could be related to a range of behavioural problems in young children, the cause of which has previously been a mystery.
In response, Harold Doherty, in his Facing Autism in New Brunswick blog, says:
Any potential cause of autism should be examined. One recent report suggests that alcohol consumption by expectant mothers is, or may be, a factor. I find this suggestion as highly unlikely as the Television causes autism speculation but if credible evidence is found then lets see it. For now color me unconvinced, totally unconvinced. Obviously alcohol consumption by expectant mothers is unwise for a number of other serious health reasons including and especially Fetal Alcohol Syndrome but autism?
Harold, I'm with you. If alcohol consumption during pregnancy caused autism, we certainly would have known about it looong before now. In fact, women of the 20's, 30's, 40's, 50's and even 60's - many of whom made it through pregnancy on a steady diet of martinis and scotch - would have mothered a whole generation of autistic children. And mothers of today, who live by "What to Expect When You're Expecting" and dutifully lay off the alcohol while pregnant, would have seen a tremendous DEcrease in instances of autism.

I look forward to hearing how the Scottish researchers back up their assertion - but from where I sit, it sounds pretty darned unlikely.

November 19, 2007 at 5:34 am
(1) Alyson Bradley says:

Well I’m 100% now my mother had aspergers, her mother never drank. I have and my mother never drank (well she did but when we were a lot older), and I never drank during pregnancy and possibility my boys have – to me this theory is just as bad as Jenny McCarthy curing autism! what a waste of time and money. If the people doing the research still are so unaware, what hope is there for us to ever be understood by the NT’s
Aspergers Parallel Planet – http://www.asplanet.info
AS “someone told me its the new must have !”
“that’s if society doesn’t steal your uniqueness”.

November 19, 2007 at 9:07 am
(2) Julie says:

Why are they wasting time on this? Everyone knows that our mothers and mother’s mothers drank during their pregnancies and this generation never even touched a drop at the Holidays!!!

I get so tired of all the time and money spent on these silly “studies” when REAL work could be done.

November 19, 2007 at 9:38 am
(3) Regina F. says:

I might have read the story a little differently; which is that what the researcher (who admittedly has a bias because of her focus on prenatal alcohol exposure) might have been inferring that FAS/FAE may be misdiagnosed as autism. Even so, on a casual perusal of the DSM-IV and the description of FAS/FAE diagnostic criteria, FAS/FAE and ASD seem quite dissimilar. My understanding is that FAS also has the additional diagnostic criterion of characteristic facial differences, so it’s hard to see how the two would be routinely confused.

Certainly the observations of routine drinking during pregnancy in the past and extreme low incidence of autism vs. many descriptions of no alcohol use during pregnancy now and concurrent higher incidence of autism now seems to speak against this speculation.

I agree that alcohol use during pregnancy is unwise. At least as framed in the newstory, I don’t see a compelling case for causation in ASDs.

November 19, 2007 at 9:43 am
(4) autism says:

Regina, I think you’re right.

Today, the full story came out – and it looks like the media headlines from yesterday did get the news a bit out of context. Yes, she did seem to be saying that ASD’s could be mistaken for FAS and vice versa, and that it’s important to look into personal histories to treat the syndrome appropriately.

Which makes the Publican’s headline and news story even odder and more concerning… especially since the story seems to be spreading around the web quite a bit.

Yet more opportunity to tell moms – “did you drink a glass of champagne at new years? ah ha! THAT’s why your child is autistic!”

Lisa Rudy

November 19, 2007 at 11:35 am
(5) Regina F. says:

Lisa, without further substantiating research or explanation, this reminds me of the “TV causes autism” story of about a year ago. That made a splash, stirred up a lot of concern, and then petered out.
I did a literature search this AM and found a new paper that seemed to have relevance on the topic,
Somer Bishop, Sheila Gahagan, Catherine Lord (2007). Re-examining the core features of autism: a comparison of autism spectrum disorder and fetal alcohol spectrum disorder
Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 48 (11), 11111121.
BACKGROUND: Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) are both characterized by social difficulties, but overall clinical descriptions of the two disorders are different.
METHOD: Twenty-nine children with autism and 33 children with pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) were compared to 29 children with FASD of equivalent age and full-scale IQ. To isolate social deficits that are most unique to ASD, all participants were administered the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS). Parents of the children completed the Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised (ADI-R).
RESULTS: Difficulties in initiating social interaction, sharing affect, and using nonverbal communication were common in children with ASD but rare in children with FASD. Socially inappropriate behaviors and difficulty with peers were common in both groups.

CONCLUSIONS: These findings suggest that whereas propensity for social interaction appears to be a differentiating factor between children with ASD and those with non-spectrum disorders, impaired quality of social interaction may be less diagnostically discriminative.
This seems to speak to the distinctions that I saw on comparing DSM-IV criteria for autism and the diagnostic criteria for FAS.

November 19, 2007 at 5:13 pm
(6) fitaloon says:

The story is actually from the newspaper the Scotland on Sunday and is headlined “Expert links autism to mothers drinking”
But when you read the story you begin to realise that the headline is completely false and the expert has done nothing of the sort. It is the hack journalist and their editor that have linked alcohol and autism as I have discussed here.

November 27, 2007 at 11:05 am
(7) Liz says:

I never drank when I was pregnant at all – stopped long before deciding to get pregnant and my son has autism. I think autism is caused by reading insane articles written by bad journalists. :) According to a social worker we had come and see us when our son was first diagnosed – autism is contagious – and she was worried that her unborn son would ‘catch it’ from us!!! Gee, the things we have to read and hear!!

November 27, 2007 at 11:47 am
(8) Sandy says:

we already know what drinking while pregnant causes, and it’s not hidden. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.

maybe they should do a study on prenatal vitamins. that’s one thing most of us mons did during pregnancy. they switched brands on me and the new one made me motion sick.

November 28, 2007 at 10:32 am
(9) Dewey says:

If I have two drinks a year it is a lot. I never drank during my two pregnancy.

December 3, 2007 at 7:18 am
(10) val says:

i was wondering if father is a heavy drinker could that be a factor in a child having autism

June 10, 2008 at 7:03 pm
(11) ColorMeBlind says:

It’s amazing to read the head-in-the-sand response about this generation doing the right thing, blah-blah-blah… yet this generation has never failed to have it’s mothers propped up with Diet Pepsi to stay slim and active … while their unborn ingest the most deadliest kind of achohol and other by-products from Aspertame breakdown in their system. Top that with the caffeine injection the child gets with the toxins. Can’t imagine why so many children are autistic? Nothing there to be concerned about.

July 17, 2009 at 12:21 am
(12) Frank says:

You selfish mothers who won’t even sacrifice your need in indulge in drinking for 9 months for the sake of your children will cry in regret once this is proven. Do you know that countries who have more values about women not drinking alcohol have much lesser cases of Autism.. Like in China… Shame on you for defending your selfish cravings.. Shame on you..

August 10, 2010 at 2:21 am
(13) Menerva Onmylastone says:

Well I for one wouldn’t and couldn’t deny any idea out there. I have a son with Autism, severe, and played by the rules my doctor gave me. BUT I did drink diet sodas in moderation, and a few times had wine in the beginning when I hadn’t realized i was even pregnant yet. My best friend drank, did drugs, smoked, used coffee, AND was bulimic. She has a perfect honor roll child. Who knows wtf is going on today. I will say it scares me to read this stuff about BPA though. My son couldn’t breast feed and was exposed to that damn tainted formula. I personally think it’s going to end up being a generation -vs- combination thing that is the culprit in the end. I will say this though, good old fashioned karma could be at work here too,lol…I wish I had NEVER taken all the freedom and money I had in my life before this for granted. At the same time, never thought I could love THIS much before either. It is sad, but I understand now WHY this child was given to me…. and I believe there really is a greater power out there somewhere we should listen to more.

February 5, 2011 at 4:20 pm
(14) lou says:

WOW!! Amazing and true! A.s.d mums spend too long thinking it is our fault… Yes i did have a tiny drink when i was pregnant … ONCE!!! But wiv my non a.s.d child i had a guiness once a week it was my craving!!! We are Blessed with special children..

March 23, 2011 at 5:30 pm
(15) jess says:

i drank, and my babes autistic!! i love him to bits and i wish i wasnt so selfish!!

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