Associations between autistic traits and early ear and upper respiratory signs: a prospective observational study of the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) geographically defined childhood population


OBJECTIVE: To determine whether early ear and upper respiratory signs are associated with the development of high levels of autistic traits or diagnosed autism. DESIGN: Longitudinal birth cohort: Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC). SETTING: Area centred on the city of Bristol in Southwest England. Eligible pregnant women resident in the area with expected date of delivery between April 1991 and December 1992 inclusive. PARTICIPANTS: 10 000+ young children followed throughout their first 4 years. Their mothers completed three questionnaires between 18-42 months recording the frequency of nine different signs and symptoms relating to the upper respiratory system, as well as ear and hearing problems. OUTCOME MEASURES: Primary-high levels of autism traits (social communication, coherent speech, sociability, and repetitive behaviour); secondary-diagnosed autism. RESULTS: Early evidence of mouth breathing, snoring, pulling/poking ears, ears going red, hearing worse during a cold, and rarely listening were associated with high scores on each autism trait and with a diagnosis of autism. There was also evidence of associations of pus or sticky mucus discharge from ears, especially with autism and with poor coherent speech. Adjustment for 10 environmental characteristics made little difference to the results, and substantially more adjusted associations were at p<0.001 than expected by chance (41 observed; 0.01 expected). For example, for discharge of pus or sticky mucus from ears the adjusted odds ratio (aOR) for autism at 30 months was 3.29 (95% CI 1.85 to 5.86, p<0.001), and for impaired hearing during a cold the aOR was 2.18 (95% CI 1.43 to 3.31, p<0.001). CONCLUSIONS: Very young children exhibiting common ear and upper respiratory signs appear to have an increased risk of a subsequent diagnosis of autism or demonstrated high levels of autism traits. Results suggest the need for identification and management of ear, nose and throat conditions in autistic children and may provide possible indicators of causal mechanisms.

Publication DOI:
Divisions: College of Health & Life Sciences > School of Optometry > Audiology
College of Health & Life Sciences
Funding Information: This publication was made possible through the support of grants from the Medical Research Council (G0400085) and the John Templeton Foundation (ref no. 61917). The UK Medical Research Council and Wellcome Trust (Grant ref: 217065/Z/19/Z) and the Universi
Additional Information: © Author(s) (or their employer(s)) 2023. Re-use permitted under CC BY. Published by BMJ.
Uncontrolled Keywords: Autistic Disorder,Child,Child, Preschool,Female,Humans,Longitudinal Studies,Parents,Pregnancy,Prospective Studies,Suppuration
Publication ISSN: 2044-6055
Last Modified: 28 Feb 2024 08:31
Date Deposited: 27 Apr 2023 16:14
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Related URLs: https://bmjopen ... nt/13/3/e067682 (Publisher URL)
http://www.scop ... tnerID=8YFLogxK (Scopus URL)
PURE Output Type: Article
Published Date: 2023-04-24
Accepted Date: 2023-02-03
Authors: Hall, Amanda (ORCID Profile 0000-0001-8520-6005)
Maw, Richard
Iles-Caven, Yasmin
Gregory, Steven
Rai, Dheeraj
Jean, Golding



Version: Published Version

License: Creative Commons Attribution

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