autismA groundbreaking new study on the cause of autism was released this week, and the focus is on dads for a change. So often it's the mother and her age or her health during pregnancy that's suspected, but this study found a direct correlation between a father's age at the time of conception and a child's chance of developing autism or schizophrenia.

The study published in Nature found that older fathers were more likely to have children with the disorders, while a mother's age had no effect. While the risk isn't dramatically higher -- about 2 percent higher for men 40 and older -- it could explain the rising rates of autism we've seen in recent years, as the average age of fathers has increased as well.

Researchers say this is significant. Dr. Fred R. Volkmar, director of the Child Study Center at the Yale School of Medicine, told The New York Times, “This study provides some of the first solid scientific evidence for a true increase in the condition. It is extremely well done and the sample meticulously characterized.”

So what does this mean for parents and parents-to-be? Well, not much really as far as I can tell. I suppose it might encourage some people to have children sooner rather than later, but the risk doesn't seem to be high enough to really alter your life plans. Maybe it makes vaccinations a little less ominous for some. Maybe it makes you rethink you ideal mate.

Mostly I think it's just one more piece of information to add to the complicated search for answers that are far too slow in coming for far too many families being affected by autism every day.

Does this study surprise you? Will it change your plans regarding children?


Image via Beverly & Pack