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Monday, August 7, 2023

Prenatal Depression and Autism-Related Traits

In The Politics of Autism, I discuss various ideas about what causes the condition.

From NIH Environmental influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO) Program:
Children of mothers with prenatal depression had slightly more autism-related traits compared to those without that exposure, according to a study funded by the Environmental influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO) Program at the National Institutes of Health.

While this study didn't explore why this association might exist, future research could investigate whether these findings reflect overlap in genetic risk for depression and autism-related traits or another mechanism.

Prior studies linked prenatal depression and depression history to autism spectrum disorder, but this study focused broadly on autism-related traits. By studying social communication and other autism-related traits, researchers can better understand how prenatal depression influences these traits, which may show up in children without an official diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder.

"Autism-related traits can significantly impact a child's physical, social, and psychological development, regardless of their clinical diagnosis. Screening and treating pregnant patients for depression and detecting autism-related traits in these children early on can lead to timely support of healthy development and outcomes for mothers and children," said study author Lyndsay Avalos, PhD, MPH, of Kaiser Permanente Northern California Division of Research.

The analysis included 3,994 parent-child pairs with prenatal depression data and 1,730 pairs with depression severity data from 33 ECHO research sites across the United States. Autism-related traits were assessed using the Social Responsiveness Scale (SRS) for children up to 12 years of age.

Dr. Avalos and Lisa Croen, PhD, also of Kaiser Permanente Northern California Division of Research, led this collaborative research published in Autism Research.

About ECHO: Launched in 2016, the Environmental influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO) Program is a research program in the Office of the Director at the NIH with the mission to enhance the health of children for generations to come. ECHO investigators study the effects of a broad range of early environmental influences on child health and development. For more information, visit

About the NIH: NIH, the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information, visit