Preterm birth (<37 weeks) adversely affects development in behavioral, cognitive, and mental health domains. Increased rates of autism are identified in preterm populations, indicating that prematurity may confer an increased likelihood of adverse neurodevelopmental outcomes. The present meta-analysis aimed to synthesize existing literature and calculate pooled prevalence estimates for rates of autism characteristics in preterm populations. 5 databases were searched from database creation until December 2020, with PRISMA guidelines followed throughout. 10,900 papers were retrieved, with 52 articles included in the final analyses, further classified by assessment method (screening tools N=30, diagnostic assessment N=29). Pooled prevalence estimated for autism in preterm samples was 20% when using screening tools and 6% when using diagnostic assessments. The odds of an autism diagnosis were 3.3 times higher in individuals born preterm than in the general population. The pooled prevalence estimate of autism characteristics in individuals born preterm was considerably higher than in the general population. The findings highlighted the clinical need to provide further monitoring and support for individuals born preterm.
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