Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Public Health (MPH)


Public Health

First Advisor

Dr. Brian Barger

Second Advisor

Dr. Emily Graybill


INTRODUCTION: Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is characterized by challenges in the areas of repetitive behaviors, social skills, and speech and nonverbal communications. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 54 children (8 years old) in the United States have ASD.

AIM: This study aimed to investigate and examine the association between both gestational age & low birth weight (LBW) and autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

METHODS: This study used secondary data from the National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH), a cross-sectional survey that examines the emotional and physical health of children in the United States from birth to 17 years of age, for the years 2016-2018. Logistic regression models were used to examine any effects that may be due to prematurity and low birth weight on ASD outcomes. The two ASD outcomes considered were whether caretakers had a health care provider who “Ever Told” them their child has an ASD or whether their child “Currently” has an ASD diagnosis.

RESULTS: Univariate models showed that both LBW and gestational ages are associated with increased odds of ASD, ever or current diagnosis. When birth weight and gestational age were conjointly considered, there was only a moderate association between preterm birth and ASD. In multivariate models with relevant covariates (e.g., controlling for presence of developmental delays; health insurance) prematurity continued to be associated with ever or current ASD status, but birth weight was not.

DISCUSSION: The study fits in with previous literature that have reported consistent associations between preterm birth and ASD, but mixed findings between birth weight and ASD. Most studies do not include both gestational age and birth weight in their analyses. These results may be used to inform future prenatal care research aimed at understanding ASD’s etiology.

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Available for download on Thursday, December 02, 2021