Research by La Trobe University has revealed a link between accelerated head growth in children and autism.
The findings revealed boys with autism are on average born smaller, however, end up surpassing their peers in height and head size between birth and age three.
The research is the largest longitudinal study on skeletal growth in infants and toddlers with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) to date.
Conducted in collaboration with the University of Melbourne, a team from the Olga Tennison Autism Centre at La Trobe compared the Maternal and Child Health records of 209 boys who live in Victoria.
Of the participants, 135 of the boys were living with ASD were compared to 74 typically developing peers.
Among the findings, at one week old, boys with ASD measured an average height of 50.17cm, compared to 51.63cm in typically developing boys, with a head circumference of 34.60cm (ASD), compared to 35.80.
At three years old, boys with ASD measured an average height of 99.34cm, exceeding typically developed boys by 1.02cm.
Whereas, by three years old all participants measured an average head circumference of 52.6cm.
“Our findings add to increasing evidence from around the world that male infants and toddlers with autism grow at an irregular rate,” Dr Cherie Green, one of the lead researchers says.
“Another strength of the current study was that it included participants from across the autism spectrum, whereas many previous studies have focused only on high functioning individuals.”
Dr Green says it is unclear why boys with autism show different growth rates and reminds parents that these findings will not apply to every child with autism.
“Our findings are not going to be representative of every child with autism because the spectrum is so diverse. But it does help us understand a subset of children with autism and the biological differences that make up the developmental disorder.”
She is now working to confirm whether the growth dysregulation persists through to adolescence.
Nicole Rogerson Chief Executive Officer of Autism Awareness Australia says the organisation is very supportive of this type of research in the autism field.
“We have known for some time that there are actually many subtypes of autism and it presents very differently from person-to-person,” she says.
“Any further research into these subtypes may lead to better treatments and supports.”
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