By Philip G. Wenger
Despite the commonness of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), the events that enable its development largely remain a mystery. The ‘causes’ that are somewhat understood really only increase the risk of developing the disorder. What actually leads to autism has yet to be discovered, but it is certain that children are born with autism, and that it is not given to them. The causes of higher risk for autism are known to exist in the form of Genetic, Biological, and Environmental issues.
There is a plethora of evidence showing genetic links to autism. The risk for ASD is higher if the family has already seen it before. 1 in 20 children with autistic siblings also develop the disorder, showing it is linked between family members. Autistic children sometimes have relatives with social impairments similar to those appearing as autism symptoms. Not only is autism itself able to be developed through genetic issues, but so are the associating impairments. 100 genes have so far been linked to autism or such associating impairments, but there is no one ‘autism gene’ that guarantees the disorder. Interestingly, girls are actually less likely to have autism than boys due to genetic differences. Genetics plays a big role in determining the mental health of children, and it can be an autism enabler.
Biological issues, including illness and birth complications, can lead to the development of ASD just as genetic issues can. A well-known biological cause is Rubella or German measles. Vaccinating against Rubella before pregnancy is key to eliminate risk from developing from it. Other known biological defects that may lead to ASD include Tuberous Sclerosis, Fragile X Syndrome Encephalitis, and Phenylketonuria. Phenylketonuria, when there is a lack of metabolism enabling enzymes in the body, left untreated is known to cause autism. Any kind of illness in mothers during pregnancy can in some way lead to autism, so it is important that mothers stay as healthy as possible.
Environmental causes of autism go hand-in-hand with genetics. A pregnant woman’s environment can take genetic autism risk and boost it to inevitable. Environmental risks take many forms, and they should be avoided as best as possible. Toxins in the air, food, or other places like heavy metals and pesticides are known to lead to autism. Children whose mothers are diabetic or obese are at greater risk. Being born within a year of a sibling or having older parents can both increase risk. Air pollution is a common form of toxin, and one example of it is particulate matter, which is released most commonly from burning diesel fuel. Overly stressed mothers or mothers who dealt with emotional trauma long before pregnancy may have children more prone to autism. For example, Mothers abused as children are likelier to have autistic children. While many mothers and protesters fear that vaccinations can cause autism, this doubt has not been proven to be true. Vaccinations have no effect on a child’s risk of developing autism, and they are often blamed simply because of the lack of answers for the cause. While the direct cause remains unclear, it is known that it is the environment that turns the autism risk into an autism diagnosis.
After viewing the genetic, biological, and environmental causes of autism, a full view of the disorder becomes a tiny bit clearer. It is not one individual cause that will lead to autism; rather, it is many different factors coming together with enough risk that ASD prevails. Knowing these many ‘causes’ can help mothers to be more aware of how to be healthy and safe in order to reduce autism risk, and in some cases prevent it altogether.