“Autism Spectrum Disorder: Analysis of Prenatal Risk Factors and Genetic Counseling for Children and Families” – Jason Duncan


Author: Jason Duncan

Department: Psychology

UIC Faculty: Dr. Michael Ragozzino

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental condition marked by deficits in social and communicative skills, as well as restricted and repetitive behaviors. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the prevalence of ASD has increased significantly over the last twenty years, from 1 in 150 children in the year 2000 to 1 in 59 children at present (Baio et al., 2018). Though several factors may explain this increased prevalence, the use of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) to treat depression and/or anxiety in pregnant women parallels the increase in ASD diagnosis, suggesting there may be a correlative relationship between these two factors. For years, researchers have conducted studies on whether or not prenatal SSRI exposure and/or depression in mothers increases autism-like behaviors in rodents. Researchers have also performed human population studies to see if there is a link between maternal depression and SSRI use and ASD in their children, but there has not been a clear consensus on the results. Further research is needed to determine the extent of the relationship between these risk factors and ASD. For children diagnosed with ASD, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics recommend that primary care physicians offer certain genetic tests to all children diagnosed with ASD but studies have shown only 28% of children underwent genetic testing (Amiet, 2014). Additionally, genetic counseling and testing have proven to be useful in the diagnosis of genetic conditions that may be linked to their autism-like behaviors, as well as understanding risk factors for other health concerns associated with some of these genetic conditions. However, recent studies have shown that there is a lack of parental awareness of this service. This literature review analyzes the current consensus on the link between ASD and its hypothesized risk factors, genetic counseling awareness, and access for families with children diagnosed with ASD, and also gives potential policy recommendations for these issues. Policy recommendations may include continued research on ASD etiology and finding ways to increase awareness and utilization of genetic counseling for children and families who may benefit from them.

Keywords: autism spectrum disorder, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, genetic counseling and testing

Read more about Jason's work here