Babies at higher risk of autism if father is too young or too old: study

Three times out of ten, when a couple is having difficulty conceiving, the cause of infertility is because of the man, the Government of Canada says.
Three times out of ten, when a couple is having difficulty conceiving, the cause of infertility is because of the man, the Government of Canada says. Getty Images

If women plan on having kids, they are regularly reminded to do so before their biological clock strikes 35, otherwise the quality of their eggs diminish and they – and their child – are at a higher risk for various complications.

Men, on the other hand, have never had that same pressure – until now.

According to a new study by the Seaver Autism Center for Research and Treatment at Mount Sinai in New York, fathering a child before the age of 25 and over the age 51 puts the child at a higher risk for developing autism and other social disorders.

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“Our study suggests that social skills are a key domain affected by paternal age,” the study’s author Magdalena Janecka said in a statement. “What was interesting is that the development of those skills was altered in the offspring of both older as well as very young fathers. In extreme cases, these effects may contribute to clinical disorders. Our study, however, suggests that they could also be much more subtle.”

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Researchers looked at 15,000 twins in the U.K. between the ages of four and 16.

To find out if children’s social skills were impacted by their father’s age, the team looked for differences in the development patterns of social skills and other behaviours, including conduct and peer problems, hyperactivity and emotionality.

What the study also found was that these children tend to be more advanced than other kids as infants, but then begin to fall behind by the time they hit their teenage years.

“We observed those effects in the general population, which suggests children born to very young or older fathers may find social situations more challenging, even if they do not meet the diagnostic criteria for autism,” Janecka said.

Genetic analysis then showed that the development of social skills was mostly influenced by genetic factors rather than environmental. Those genetic effects, the team says, became even more important as the age of the father increased.

Janecka and her team believe that there could be different mechanisms behind the effects at these two extremes of paternal age.

Despite the behaviour of these children being similar, Janecka says the causes could be “vastly different.”

She also believes the developmental differences pinpointed in the study are most likely the result of alterations in the brain maturation.

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No link was found between the age of the mother and the development of their child’s social skills development.

The study was published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (JAACAP). 

According to the Government of Canada, one in six couples experience infertility.

Three times out of 10, the cause of infertility is in men.

Common signs and predictors of infertility in men may include experiencing a testicular torsion and having surgery as a child for an undescended testicle.

Men should get tested if they experience premature ejaculation or lack of ejaculations, have a history of a sexually transmitted infection (STI) and/or had cancer treatment in the past.