Editor’s note: Earlier this month, research examining the link between the flu and fevers in pregnant women and the risk of autism raised eyebrows across the web and in the media. To get a better assessment, we asked University of Minnesota Physicians psychologist and autism spectrum disorders expert Amy Esler, Ph.D., for her take. Below is what she had to say about the study, outlined well by USA Today in this article.
There is a lot of information out there about the latest autism-related study from Denmark. As a result, I’m sure people have a lot of questions.
The strength of the study in question, published recently in Pediatrics, is that it uses a large population-based sample, followed prospectively from pregnancy, before any signs of autism-spectrum disorder (ASD) would be present. Thirty-one percent of all pregnant women in Denmark between 1996 and 2002 participated in the study.
The women were asked questions about illnesses during pregnancy at two time points during the actual pregnancy and then shortly after the child was born. This helps control recall bias, which occurs when people look back with hindsight and try to find potential causes of their child’s current problems. It also reduces problems with recall in general (i.e., prevents losing data due to parents forgetting what happened during pregnancy).
But what’s important for the general public to understand is that the study and its researchers actually argue the opposite of what is now appearing in headlines.