By Philip G. Wenger
In every 150 newborn children, one is born with autism. Living with autism spectrum disorder, or ASD can bring challenges to education, communication, and simple everyday functions. While little is known of the cause of autism, progress in methods of prevention is happening, and there are known ways to reduce the risk of autism before, during, and after pregnancy.
Autism rates are on the rise, and the biggest risk is in children with autistic siblings. One in 20 children with older siblings with the disorder will develop autism as well. The methods being uncovered to help prevent these trends begin even before pregnancy, and even before parents even plan on having children. It is important for mothers to lead a healthy lifestyle, including being active and eating quality foods. Mothers wanting pregnancy should adopt a healthy lifestyle at least six months to a year before becoming pregnant. Vaccinations, a sensitive subject in the world of ASD, should be updated. It is especially important for mothers to be vaccinated against German measles before pregnancy. Having a plan for preventing autism before pregnancy is a great way to be on the ball for preventing, reducing, and treating the disorder.
A well-established cause of autism in children is from chemical exposure during pregnancy. Sources of such toxic chemicals include drugs and alcohol, and even medications such as antidepressants. In addition to avoiding such toxins, continuing a healthy lifestyle is vital for a healthy development process for babies. Rather than sugars and processed foods, pregnant mothers should follow a diet that largely consists of organic vegetables. Good nutrition habits paired with a routine of daily exercise is a great way to fight against autism risk. A prevention method aimed more directly at the problem is taking folic acid during early pregnancy. Folic acid, found in leafy green vegetables, fruits, and nuts, prevents neural tube defects, and can, therefore, reduce the risk of autism, as well as other neural and spinal defects. It has been shown that women who take folic acid early on in the pregnancy reduce the risk of autism by 40%, but parents who take it only in the middle of pregnancy have no significant risk reduction. Folic acid can be a powerful ASD opposition, but most women haven’t heard of it. Women can follow these steps to prevent autism during and even before pregnancy, giving them needed control over the health of their children.
Unfortunately, in most cases, the cause of autism is hereditary and is therefore uncontrollable. Still, actions taken after birth can treat, minimize, and even erase the effects of the disorder, and failure to do so will lead to the inevitable outcome. For example, if the hereditary disease Phenylketonuria is left undiagnosed and untreated, it can lead to brain damage from a buildup of an amino acid in the blood. This happens soon after birth, so it is key that such diseases are found immediately. Another possible autism reduction and prevention method are diagnosing and treating Celiac disease as soon as possible. Immediate actions against the development of autism is key, as it can be treated and accounted for early when the child is developing. A baby’s brain is able to change much more than a child just a few years older, and in theory, it is possible to prevent autism if it is caught and treated early enough. Progress is being made on identifying signs of potential autism and methods for changing that path are being developed.
Still, autism cannot be prevented if it isn’t detected. Known symptoms of autism in newborns are easily missed, but they can include not being able to visually track a caregiver around a room, or not beginning to babble until later than most babies. These are only hints at autism, and many early symptoms can be false positives. Some children with ASD won’t even display symptoms until they are older, making the necessity of prevention vague. Falsely treating a typical child for autism can actually cause negative effects in development. Even if a baby is identified to be autistic, little is known on how to treat a baby with therapy. The same therapy used for toddlers cannot be used for infants and young children. The best treatment done so early can be done at home by the parents, and such programs are being developed. Parents have the most important job in minimizing the long-term effects of autism. Parents should do what is best for their children, not just make them happy. For example, children with ASD who play best alone shouldn’t always be encouraged to do so, even if it is what the child wants and if it is easy for the parents. Mothers should bond with their children as much as possible, being present as often as they can and talking to their babies frequently. Furthermore, mothers should continue to maintain a healthy diet for providing important nutrients to the baby through breastfeeding. Despite the mystery and confusion around early treatment, methods for autistic infant therapy are being developed, and infancy remains to be the best time for treatment and prevention.
As a child with ASD grows older, his or her chances to minimize the disorder get slimmer. Still, methods for helping children cope are available in young children. In fact, ASD can only be reliably diagnosed by age three, and it is impossible to diagnose autism before 18 months when only the risk can be assessed. This limiting factor indicates that methods for treatment after infancy are necessary for those who didn’t show many signs soon after birth. Therapy programs are available, but parents also can and should assist their children. Parenting practices cannot cause autism; however, proper treatment of autistic children can limit their symptoms later in life. For example, language ability for those with ASD is thought to be affected by how much their parents communicated with them at age four. Parents can and should continue to provide and assist their children with autism throughout childhood.
Despite the seeming lack of control parents may sometimes seem to face, there are many practices available to minimize risk or symptoms of ASD, from before pregnancy until long after birth. Autism can be a crippling disorder, and taking known steps to avoid serious disability can be a life changer for a child facing communication and education challenges. While ASD prevention remains veiled under a cloud of uncertainties, there remains hope in the knowledge of past success and in the future of research for autism.
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Pearson, Carol. “Folic Acid Supplements Shown to Reduce Risk of Autism.” Voice of America, 17 Apr. 2013, www.voanews.com/a/follic-acid-supplements-shown-to-reduce-risk-of-autuism/1643776.html. Accessed 30 Mar. 2017.