While many studies have examined environmental risk factors for autism spectrum disorder (ASD), much of the research focus has been on prenatal or perinatal factors. Yet, the postnatal environment may affect the risk of ASD as well.
To determine whether a set of five postnatal variables are associated with ASD. These variables are: acetaminophen exposure, antibiotic exposure, incidence of ear infection, decreased duration of breastfeeding, and decreased consumption of oral vitamin D drops.
An Internet-based survey was conducted. Participants were parents living in the USA with at least one biological child between 3 and 12 years of age. Potential participants were informed about the survey via postings on social media, websites, and listservs and were offered an opportunity to participate in a raffle as well. Participants were also recruited through the Interactive Autism Network.
There were 1,741 completed survey responses. After exclusions, there remained 1,001 responses associated with children with ASD (cases) and 514 responses associated with children who do not have ASD (controls). In this data set, doses of postnatal acetaminophen (adjusted odds ratio [aOR] 1.016, CI: 1.003-1.032, p=0.026), courses of postnatal antibiotics (aOR 1.103, CI: 1.046-1.168, p<0.001), incidence of postnatal ear infection (aOR 1.137, CI: 1.046-1.236, p=0.003), and decreased duration of breastfeeding (aOR 0.948, CI: 0.932-0.965, p<0.001) are all associated with ASD when adjusted for eight demographic variables. A weak association between oral vitamin D drop exposure and ASD was also found when adjusted for breastfeeding and demographics (aOR 1.025, CI: 0.995-1.056, p=0.102).
This study adds to evidence that postnatal acetaminophen use, postnatal antibiotic use, incidence of ear infection, and early weaning are associated with an increased risk of ASD. It also finds that postnatal oral vitamin D drops are weakly associated with ASD when adjusted for breastfeeding and demographics.