Background The Quantitative Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (Q-CHAT) is a parent-completed questionnaire providing a quantitative measure of early childhood social-communication difficulty (Allison et al, J Autism Dev Disord, 2008). The Q-CHAT scores of children born preterm are higher than the general population, indicating greater autistic traits (Wong et al, Neonatal Society Proceedings 2012 Spring Meeting).
Aim To examine sociodemographic and neonatal factors associated with social-communication abilities in preterm infants at 24 months corrected age.
Methods The parents of children born at < 30 weeks gestation and enrolled in a study evaluating routinely collected neurodevelopmental data were asked to complete the Q-CHAT. Children with severe neurosensory disabilities and cerebral palsy were excluded. The effect of factors identified a priori (maternal age, gestation, birthweight z-score, gender, multiple pregnancy, length of mechanical ventilation, supplemental oxygen requirement at 36 weeks post-menstrual age (BPD) and index of multiple deprivation (IMD)) on Q-CHAT scores were examined using univariable and multivariable linear regressions.
Results The Q-CHAT was completed by the parents of 104 children (mean[SD] gestation 27.0[1.7] weeks, when the children were at a mean corrected age of 24.7[2.7] months). On univariable analysis, gestation, multiple pregnancy, BPD and IMD were positively associated with Q-CHAT scores. Low gestation (p=0.02) and higher IMD (p<0.01) were independently associated with higher Q-CHAT scores on multivariable analysis.
Conclusion Preterm birth is a recognised risk factor for autism spectrum disorder. We report a novel finding of high deprivation as an independent predictor of early childhood social-communication difficulty in the preterm population.