Reproductive stoppage in autism spectrum disorder in a population of 2.5 million individuals

Ralf Kuja-Halkola, Henrik Larsson, Sebastian Lundström, Sven Sandin, Azadeh Chizarifard, Sven Bölte, Paul Lichtenstein, Emma Frans

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Background: It has been suggested that parents of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) curtail their reproduction, a phenomenon known as reproductive stoppage. To investigate the presence of reproductive stoppage, we followed the reproduction in mothers of children with or without an ASD diagnosis using Swedish population-based registries. Methods: We followed all families with first child born in 1987 or later. In total 2,521,103 children, nested within 1,270,017 mothers, were included. Exposure was presence of ASD diagnosis in earlier born siblings, and outcome was considered as (1) inter-pregnancy interval and (2) number of subsequent children. Results: Analyses of inter-pregnancy intervals showed that the association differed across birth orders, with a lower rate of second children when first child had ASD diagnosis, but an increased rate of third and higher birth orders in families where a previous child had an ASD diagnosis. When all birth orders were simultaneously considered, families with a child with an ASD diagnosis were less likely to have another child (hazard ratio (HR), 0.79; 95% confidence interval [95% CI], 0.78-0.80). However, when adjusted for birth order, the association was close to null (HR, 0.97; 95% CI, 0.96-0.99), and after additional adjustments (maternal age, birth period, sex, paternal age, and maternal education), the association disappeared (HR, 1.00; 95% CI, 0.99-1.02). In analyses of subsequent children, after adjustment for covariates, families with an ASD diagnosis had 4% more subsequent children (rate ratio, 1.04; 95% CI, 1.03-1.05). Limitations: The study was undertaken in a country with largely tax-funded healthcare; results may not generalize to other societies. Following the current dominating umbrella concept of ASD, we did not differentiate between the ASD sub-diagnoses; it is possible that reproductive patterns can be dependent on ASD subtypes and the severity and composition of ASD phenotypes and comorbidities. Conclusions: This study does not support a universal reproductive stoppage effect in ASD families, when birth order and other factors are considered. Therefore, proper attention to birth order and other factors may alleviate potential bias in familial aggregation studies of ASD.

Original languageEnglish
Article number45
JournalMolecular Autism
Issue number1
StatePublished - 11 Dec 2019


  • Autism
  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Fecundity
  • Reproduction
  • Reproductive stoppage


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