Sad news for babies already facing an uphill battle: A 20-year study has found that infants born prematurely and with low birth weights are five times more likely than typical babies to be diagnosed with autism. The US study, released this week, looked at 862 children born between 1984 and 1987 in New Jersey and weighing between 1.1 and 4.4 pounds. Researchers followed them through young adulthood and discovered that 5% of the premies eventually developed autism, compared to 1% of babies in the general population, reports the AFP.
"As survival of the smallest and most immature babies improves, impaired survivors represent an increasing public health challenge," says the study's lead scientist, who encourages parents who detect symptoms of autism in their kids to have them tested immediately. She adds, "Early intervention improves [the] long-term outcome and can help these children both at school and at home." (Read more autism stories.)