Women who reported physical, emotional, or sexual abuse when they were young were more likely to have a child with autism compared to women who were not abused. The more severely the women were abused, the higher their chances of having a child with autism; compared to women who weren’t abused, those who endured the most serious mistreatment were 60% as likely to have an autistic child.
Because it’s possible that a mother’s exposure to abuse as a child could also lead her to engage in behaviors associated with harming the fetus — such as smoking, drinking during pregnancy, using drugs, being overweight, having preterm labor or giving birth to a premature or low birth weight baby — the scientists also calculated how much these factors contributed to the risk of ASD in the next generation. To their surprise, these conditions explained only 7% of the heightened risk among the abused women. That meant that abuse was exerting more lasting effects on the women’s bodies that were translating into an increased risk of autism in their children.