Why Does My Child Have Autism?
Anytime that someone is diagnosed with any type of disease or condition, the first question asked is usually “What caused this?” And autism is no different! Parents often want to know whether it is because of something that they did wrong, and many times blame themselves. I have seen parents analyze their entire pregnancy, even the time leading up to the conception of the child. I have also seen parents blame each other. The fact is that nobody knows for certain what causes autism, so do not beat yourself up or berate the other parent — this will just cause additional stress that is unnecessary!
A Combination of Genetic and Environmental Factors
Recent research has concluded that there is no one thing that causes autism. Instead, the research shows that a combination of genetic and environmental factors is most likely the cause of this condition that impacts the lives of so many children and adults in the world today. At this point, there is no definite cause of autism.
It is very important to note that the factors listed here are not the cause of autism; rather, these factors increase the chance that a child might develop autism. For example, some people who have the genetic factors listed might not have autism. Along the same line, not every person exposed to environmental factors listed will develop autism.
Genetic Factors That Increase the Risk
Autism research shows that the condition is genetic — it tends to run in families. The risk of developing autism increases when there are changes in certain genes. A parent may not have autism, but if they carry one of these altered genes they might pass the gene to one or more of their children, increasing the risk of one of them developing autism. Sometimes the gene change will occur in the sperm or egg that combine to create an embryo or possibly even in a growing embryo. It is important to remember that gene changes do not cause autism — they simply increase the risk!
Environmental Factors May Increase or Decrease the Risk
If an individual is genetically at risk for developing autism, some environmental factors could either increase or decrease the risk of that person developing autism.
Some factors that might increase the risk include either parent being of an older age; pregnancy and birth complications (being born before the 26th week of pregnancy, low birth weight or multiple pregnancies such as twins or triplets); or pregnancies occurring one year or less apart. I once met a family who had teenage triplets (2 boys and 1 girl) and all 3 of the children had autism but to varying degrees!
One environmental factor that seems to decrease the risk of autism is prenatal vitamins being taken at the time of conception and throughout the pregnancy, especially vitamins containing folic acid.
The Debate on Vaccinations Causing Autism
When my son was diagnosed with autism, the cause of autism was centered on vaccinations given to infants and toddlers. Vaccinations were focused on because many families receive an autism diagnosis close to the time that the child was receiving their childhood immunizations. There has been extensive research in this area conducted over the past two decades and this research has not shown any evidence that vaccinations cause autism.
Research Focusing on Brain Biology
The genetic and environmental factors listed can possibly affect the early development of the child’s brain. Research is focused on how these factors can affect the ability of the neurons (or brain nerve cells) to communicate with each other, or even how different parts of the brain communicate with each other. Much of today’s research on autism focuses on formulating treatments and supports to help the individuals impacted by autism.
If you have any comments, questions or ideas to share on this topic, please feel free to leave a comment below! Or maybe you have another area related to autism that you would like me to talk about! Just let me know!