autism, causes of autism

Understanding the Underlying Causes of Autism: A Comprehensive Guide

The early years of autism discovery witnessed several assumptions around the causes of autism, where mothers of autistic infants mantled with this load. Leo Kanner, an Australian American psychiatrist, also known as the father of child psychiatry, was the first to study children with autism and also the first to link the lack of mothers’ attention to their newborns to the leading cause of autism. Kanner described early infantile autism as a distinct clinical syndrome based on his observation study on 11 children with similar behavior. Despite being a small dataset, the study revealed that these children did not relate to people or situations. In the 1940s, Kanner coined the phrase refrigerator mother to symbolize the lack of emotional attachment of parents correlating to children’s autistic behavior.

Contrasting results derived from a study by Folstein and Rutter in 1977 reveal that the incidence of autism in siblings was fifty times higher than the average, proving a strong link between genetics and autism in children. The study further stated that monozygotic twins (Twins that result from the fertilization of a single egg splitting into two embryos) were more likely to share a diagnosis than dizygotic twins (twins born out of two different eggs), suggesting genetic significance in the disorder.

Another study conducted on 21 British twin pairs by A Bailey and his colleagues strengthened these findings by concluding a 60 percent consistency or concordance for the occurrence of ASD in monozygotic twins while observing none in dizygotic twins—pronouncements such as these show significant evidence to prove a visible correlation between genes and autism. While genetic factors contribute to susceptibility, environmental factors also hold significance to ASD. Interactions between genes and the environment are crucial in increasing vulnerability to autism.

Advanced technology and more sophisticated scientific research revealed environmental and genetic causes of autism in children, such as the following.

Maternal Infections

Maternal infections during pregnancy also surfaced as potent environmental risk factors contributing to neurodiversity in children. Infection agents like the rubella virus activate the mother’s immune system. Such immunological activity in the early stages of pregnancy can directly impact the developing brain of the embryo or fetus. 

The research further illustrated a strong correlation between monozygotic twins and autism when compared with autism occurence in dizygotgic twins.

Genetic Mutations

Several genetic mutations are associated with ASD. Notably, so, mutations in the SHANK3 and CHD8 genes have been linked to an increased risk of autism, which aggravates in the later stages of life. The SHANK3 gene is critical in the formation and function of synapses (connections between neurons in the brain). On the other hand, CHD8 helps with brain development, and mutations to this gene can lead to rapid changes in the brain’s original structure and formation. 

Air Pollution

According to an article by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, early-life exposure to air pollution may increase the risk of autism in the fetus. Mothers who live near a freeway or busy roads during their third trimester were twice likely to have children who later developed ASD.

Weight Gain During Pregnancy

25-30 pounds is an optimal weight gain during pregnancy. According to a study by the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, abnormal weight gain has a visible correlation to children developing autism while in the mother’s womb.

Metals, Pesticides, and Other Contaminants

Exposure to heavy metals like mercury in the prenatal period is associated with autism causes. Researchers reported that pre-natal exposure to high mercury, zinc, lead, and arsenic levels in the blood because of continuous exposure to contaminants, could increase the risk of autism.

Prevention of Autism is Possible

With advancements in medical research, child psychiatry, and diagnostic techniques, couples planning pregnancy can prevent the probability of autism in their children with specific lifestyle changes during pregnancy. Taking precautions such as those during pregnancy has indicated psychological health in children.

  • Regular check-ups with family obstetricians are critical to keep maternal health in check.
  • A balanced diet rich in Omega-3 Fatty Acids, Vitamin D, Folic Acid, etc., can reduce the risk of autism occurrence in children.
  • Mothers should abide by scheduled vaccinations to gain immunity against German measles (Rubella) and Influenza.
  • An infant’s neurological ability is naturally enhanced by passing through the birth canal. Unnecessary C-Section surveys heavily correlate to autism in children, which must be avoided.
  • Seeking medical help to prevent gestational diabetes and cure any pre-existing medical conditions lowers the risk of autism.  

Identifying the causes of autism is as important as working towards its mitigation. While autism is caused by genetic and environmental disturbances, awareness about Autism Spectrum Disorder and other neurodevelopmental disorders in couples is paramount for the prevention and early intervention to tackle autism. 

Regular medical consultations and the right diagnostic approach can significantly contribute to calling off that danger zone for your child. Speak with your pediatrician to learn about early intervention in autism-related disorders and make informed choices for your child’s well-being.