To determine the relation of neonatal cranial ultrasound abnormalities to autism spectrum disorders (ASD) in low birth weight (LBW) adult survivors, a population at increased ASD risk.Study design
This is a secondary analysis of a prospectively-followed regional birth cohort of 1105 LBW infants systematically screened for perinatal brain injury with cranial ultrasound in the first week of life and later assessed for ASD using a two-stage process [screening at age 16 years (n = 623) followed by diagnostic assessment at age 21 years of a systematically selected subgroup of those screened (n = 189)]; 14 cases of ASD were identified. For this analysis, cranial ultrasound abnormalities were defined as ventricular enlargement (indicative of diffuse white matter injury), parenchymal lesions (indicative of focal white matter injury), and isolated germinal matrix/intraventricular hemorrhage.Results
Compared with no cranial ultrasound abnormalities, any type of white matter injury (ventricular enlargement and/or parenchymal lesion) tripled the risk for screening positively for ASD [3.0 (2.2, 4.1)]. However, the risk of being diagnosed with ASD depended on type of white matter injury. With ventricular enlargement, the risk of ASD diagnosis was almost seven-fold that of no cranial ultrasound abnormality [6.7 (2.3, 19.7)], and no elevated risk was found for parenchymal lesion without ventricular enlargement [1.8 (0.2, 13.6)]. Isolated germinal matrix/intraventricular hemorrhage did not increase risk for a positive ASD screen or diagnosis.Conclusion
In LBW neonates, cranial ultrasound evidence of ventricular enlargement is a strong and significant risk factor for subsequent development of rigorously-diagnosed ASD.