The study, published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, is the first to examine the potential legacy that a mother’s experience with childhood abuse could have on the health of her own children. The findings are especially sobering given the latest statistics released from the Centers for Disease Control, which found a significantly higher rate of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) — one in 50 compared to one in 88 from a report released in 2012 — among school-aged children than previously thought.
The authors of the JAMA Psychiatry paper studied more than 50,000 women enrolled in the Nurse’s Health Study II, who were asked about any history of abuse before they were 12. The questions delved into both physical and emotional abuse, as the women evaluated whether they had been hit hard enough to leave bruises, as well as whether adults or caregivers had insulted, screamed or yelled at them. They also filled out questionnaires about whether their own children were diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders. The scientists also had access to the nurses’ health records, so they could adjust for other maternal health factors known to influence autism risk, including nine pregnancy-related conditions such as preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, alcohol consumption and smoking.