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Link Between Autism and Schizophrenia?

Link Between Autism and SchizophreniaA developmental psychologist posits a connection between disorders in the first month of pregnancy and the development of schizophrenia and autism.

The research follows the observation that many physical abnormalities of autistics are also prevalent in schizophrenics. For example, both people with autism and people with schizophrenia sometimes have protruding ears and peculiar toes.

There are also differences: a large head and intestinal problems, for example, are typical traits occurring in autistics.

From this, Dutch researcher Annemie Ploeger concluded that the two disorders share a common origin. The same error that occurs very early in pregnancy develops into autism in one individual and schizophrenia in another.

Early vulnerability

Ploeger’s research reveals that in the period between 20 and 40 days after fertilization, the embryo is highly susceptible to disruptions. In this period, early organogenesis, there is a lot of interaction between the different parts of the body.

If something goes wrong with a given part of the body, it greatly influences the development of other parts of the body. As people with schizophrenia and autism frequently have physical abnormalities to body parts formed during early organogenesis, Ploeger concluded that the foundation for these psychiatric disorders is laid very early during pregnancy.

The existence of a relationship between unhealthy behavior during pregnancy and the subsequent development of schizophrenia and autism in the child was already known. However, Ploeger’s hypothesis that the early organogenesis stage is the most critical, is new.

Ploeger bases her hypothesis on an extensive study of scientific literature in this area. She often had to make use of related studies; although a lot of research has been done into prenatal influences on the development of schizophrenia and autism, little is known about the influence of the period between 20 to 40 days after fertilization.

Toxic pregnancy medicine

For example, she acquired information about autism from a study into Thalidomide (softenon) use. Thalidomide is an anti-morning sickness drug that was administered to women in the 1960s and 1970s. Later it was discovered that severely disabled children were born as a result of this medicine.

Autistic children were born in four percent of pregnancies in which Thalidomide was used, whereas normally this figure is 0.1 percent. Women could state exactly when they started to take Thalidomide. Those who had taken it between the 20th and 24th day of the pregnancy had the greatest chance of giving birth to an autistic child.

Ploeger advises women to stop risky behavior such as smoking, medicine use and stressful activities before they even become pregnant. If you only start to live healthily once you know that you are pregnant, the basis for a disrupted development of your child could already have been laid.

Ploeger’s research was partly financed by NWO  within the research program Evolution and Behavior.

Source: The Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO)

Link Between Autism and Schizophrenia?

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2016). Link Between Autism and Schizophrenia?. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 19, 2018, from


Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 30 Jun 2016
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Jun 2016
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