Parents of children with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) diagnosis go on to have fewer kids after the first signs of the disorder manifest or a diagnosis is made, according to an article in JAMA.


Autism has always been a puzzle but in the classical definition was clearly physical. In recent years, the diagnosis for autism spectrum disorder is much broader, encompassing relatively mild behaviors and people with no loss in cognitive functioning.

Because it is a neurodevelopmental disorder and diagnoses have risen so sharply, a great deal of psychology and neuroscience is devoted to studying ASD. But few studies have focused on reproductive stoppage by parents after a child is diagnosed with ASD or symptoms appear. 

The authors found families of patients who received an autism spectrum diagnosis between 1990 and 2003 in California. A total of 19,710 families in which the first birth occurred during the study period were identified. The families included 39,361 individuals (siblings and half-siblings). A group of 36,215 control families (including 75,724 individuals) also were identified that had no individuals with an ASD diagnosis.  

For the first few years after the birth of a child who would receive an autism spectrum diagnosis, parents' reproductive behavior was similar to that of the control families. But birth rates differed in subsequent years with families whose first child had an autism spectrum diagnosis having a second child at a rate of 0.668 that of control families.

Women who changed partners had a slightly stronger curtailment in reproduction with a relative rate of 0.553 for a second child.

"These results are, to our knowledge, the first to quantify reproductive stoppage in families affected by ASD by using a large, population-based sample of California families."