Autism is a spectrum of disorders, which is also known as ‘pervasive developmental disorder’ in some literature. The condition usually affects children who are in the age of gaining most of their basic skills including the ability to build relationships, perform effective communication and work with a vivid imagination. As a result, these children will demonstrate problems in interacting with the others, imagination, communication as well as having limited interests. While many parents are convinced that the reason for autism in their children is clear-cut, research does not seem to agree as there is much debate over what causes autism. Therefore, this article will discuss the modern thinking behind the possible causes of autism, which should help eradicate some of the myths and guilt that often plague families with autistic children.
According to clinicians and researchers, it is not possible to associate all instances of autism with an underlying cause. Thus, most instances of autism are regarded as ‘idiopathic autism’ or as having an ‘unknown cause’. However, one of the strongest associations with regard to manifestation of autism is the genetic susceptibility.
Thus, many researchers that have looked into the possibility of genetic susceptibility of autistic children have found a significant association between the two although there were many instances of spontaneous mutation being detected among the autistic children, which was not inherited from their parents. At the same time, parents who are from families with autistic members are at an increased risk of having children of their own who are also suffering from autistic disorders. Meanwhile, parents who are having an autistic child may have an increased risk of having a second child suffering from similar symptoms. However, the cause for genetic mutations that are seen among some autistic children are not yet clear although researchers believe that the environmental factors may have contributed towards such occurrences.
In addition, some researchers have detected structural changes with regard to the brain composition and size in some autistic children and have formulated the theory that early inhibitions in the brain development as a fetus may lead to autism in the early childhood.
The theory of immune mechanisms causing autistic features has also been studied in length and accordingly, researchers believe that formation of inappropriate antibodies that may harm the tissues in the brain may actually lead to the manifestations seen in autism in certain instances. However, these findings need further research to substantiate their claims.
Many have picked up the idea of vaccines causing autism and in some instances this has lead to withdrawing certain vaccines due to fears of causing autism. However, the research that has looked into the link between autism and certain type of vaccines, particularly the Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR) vaccine, does not indicate a clear association. Given the number of children immunized with the MMR vaccine and the incidence of autism among such children, the claims of vaccine induced autism can be refuted.
At the same time, a preservative known as ‘thimerosal’ found in certain vaccines has also been suspected of contributing to causing autism although research evidence does not correlate the two as suggested by certain proponents of the theory.
In addition to these theories and claims, certain other groups suspect nutrition, food allergies, toxicity…etc to play a role in causing autism among certain children although research evidence supporting such claims is either very weak or are not existing. However, the old myth that links bad parenting as a cause for autism may no longer be held true due to the efforts of many scientists and researchers alike.