Health Beat: Beyond the fold: Autism linked to abnormal placentas?

Posted: 6:43 AM EST Dec 24, 2013   Updated: 5:43 PM EDT Sep 13, 2013
Autism linked to abnormal placenta
NEW HAVEN, Conn. -

Here’s a frightening statistic: One in every 50 school children in the United States will be diagnosed with autism. Unfortunately, it can take doctors years to identify the disorder, delaying much-needed treatment, but a new research may help doctors predict a child’s risk of developing autism at birth.

Skiing alongside 12-year-old Jaya Dominici, you wouldn’t know that she’s severely autistic unless you try to talk to her. Maria Dominici suspected her daughter was autistic at 18 months, but she wasn’t diagnosed until three.

"It was really like a baseball bat right to the head, because you know it’s going to be forever," Dominici said.

Early detection is critical because "the brain is completely unformed at birth. We can change behaviors very early," said Dr. Harvey J. Kliman, a research scientist in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at the Yale University School of Medicine.

A new study examining the placenta, the organ that provides nutrients to the baby from the mother, may help doctors diagnose autism shortly after birth. Researchers analyzed placentas from 217 births and found that in families at high genetic risk for having an autistic child, there were more of these abnormal folds and creases.

Researchers won't know how many children, whose placentas were studied, will have autism for at least another year, but for Maria, it would have helped me to get earlier intervention," Dominici said.

The study is a joint effort by researchers at Yale University's school of medicine and the University of California at Davis. Kliman said the test will be available in the next few months.

You may also be interested in learning that boys are four- to-five times more likely to have autism than girls.

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DOWNLOAD and VIEW the full-length interview with Dr. Harvey J. Kliman about autism possibly being linked to abnormal placentas