The causes of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are a topic of heated debate. Advocates and parents of children with autism can widely disagree on what causes their child’s autism. This is because the spectrum includes a wide variety of symptoms and abilities and because researchers have yet to pinpoint its origins.
Despite much research, no conclusive test or scan exists to diagnose ASD, and its pathophysiology is still unclear. Because of this, clinicians observe how a patient acts to arrive at a diagnosis. Studies now suggest that children may exhibit the earliest signs of autism between the ages of 12 and 18 months, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported. Science has shed light on many elements of the disorder, but the underlying reason remains unknown. Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is now seen as a spectrum that encompasses a wide range of symptoms, each specific to the individual with ASD.
Researchers have spent decades trying to pin down the neural circuitry or genes responsible for autism. However, no conclusive solution has been found despite all this effort.
Researchers have come to believe that autism, like other complicated disorders, results from the interplay of several genes and environmental variables. Hundreds of genes may increase a person’s risk of developing autism but possessing even one of these genes does not guarantee that someone will acquire autism or define its severity.
The CDC has identified several risk factors for ASD, some of which are environmental (exposure to harmful chemicals and air pollution during pregnancy or young age), others are biological (such as older-aged birth parents, pregnancy, or birth complications), and some are hereditary (such as family history or chromosomal/genetic disorders).
Several studies have shown that autism has a strong genetic component. A child’s chance of developing autism is amplified when specific genes are altered. Such gene alterations can be handed down from parent to kid if at least one parent possesses the anomaly (even if the parent does not have ASD). The bulk of these gene alterations do not, on their own, cause autism; however, they raise the probability of developing the condition.
Childhood vaccines, a controversial issue, aren’t listed on the CDC’s official list of risk factors for autism. In 1998, Dr. Andrew Wakefield, a British gastroenterologist, allegedly linked the MMR vaccination to ASD. Wakefield studied 12 children with autism and claimed a connection between the MMR vaccination and autism. The study made global news; however, autism specialists were skeptical. Furthermore, ten of the paper’s co-authors issued a retracting statement of the interpretation of the findings relatively quickly after the first publication, thereby discrediting any MMR connection.
An investigation revealed that Wakefield had fabricated and changed the study’s patient medical records. He also didn’t mention that his research was funded by attorneys who sued vaccine makers. By 2010, Wakefield’s paper was withdrawn, and he lost his license. Unfortunately, Wakefield’s conclusions circulated quickly among autism families. His hypothesis attracted parents searching for a cause for their child’s autism. Many parents, even today, still believe vaccinations cause autism.
According to Autism Speaks, one-third of American parents incorrectly associate vaccinations with autism, according to two 2014 opinion surveys (one of which was performed by the National Consumers League), while just 53% of Americans trust that vaccines are safe and effective, according to a study by The Associated Press. The CDC stated categorically that “Vaccines Do Not Cause Autism” on their website.
The topic has been the focus of a great deal of study, both publicly funded and privately conducted. In research that has been both extensive and evidence-based, findings on the National Institutes of Health (NIH) website reported that vaccinations are not linked to autism spectrum disorder and that vaccine components (thimerosal or mercury) or multiple vaccinations (MMR) are not linked to autism or ASD.
For more information about the risk factors for autism, please visit AutismSpeaks.org and AutismHelp.org.