Causes of Autism

Most scientists believed that autism is caused mostly by genetic factors. But new research indicates that environmental factors may also be important in the development of autism. Babies can be born with a genetic vulnerability to autism that is then triggered by something in the external environment, either while he or she is still in the womb or sometime after birth.

It is important to know that environment, in this context, means anything outside the body. It is not limited to things like pollutions or toxins in the atmosphere. In fact, one of the most important environments appears to be prenatal environment.

Prenatal factors that may contribute to autism:
• Taking antidepressants during pregnancy, especially in the first 3 months
• Nutritional deficiencies early in the pregnancy, particularly not getting enough folic acid
• The age of the mother and father
• Complications at or shortly after birth, including very low birth weight and neonatal anemia
• Maternal infections during pregnancy
• Exposure to chemical pollutants, such as metals and pesticides while pregnant

More research is needed though, but if you are pregnant or trying to conceive, it can’t hurt to take steps now to reduce your baby’s risk of autism.

Tips to reduce the risk of autism:
• Take a multivitamin. Taking 400mg of folic acid daily helps prevent birth defects. It is not clear whether this helps reduce the risk of autism, but taking vitamins can never hurt.
• Ask about SSRIs. Women who are taking an SSRI (or who develop depression during pregnancy) should talk with a doctor about all the risk and benefits of these drugs. Untreated depression in a mother can also affect her child’s well-being later on, so this is not a simple decision to make.
• Practice prenatal care. Eat nutritious food, try avoiding infections, and seeing a doctor for regular check-ups can increase the changes of giving birth to a healthy child.

Autism and Vaccines

You cannot control the genes your child inherits or shield them from every environmental danger, there is one very important thing you can do to protect the health of your child – make sure they are vaccinated on schedule.

Despite a lot of controversy on the topic, scientific research does not support the theory that vaccines or their ingredients cause autism.

Myths and Facts about Childhood Vaccinations

Myth: Vaccines aren’t necessary
Fact: Vaccines protect your child from many serious and potentially deadly diseases, including measles, meningitis, polio, tetanus, diphtheria, and whooping cough. These diseases are uncommon today because vaccines are doing their job. But the bacteria and viruses that cause these diseases still exist and can be passed on to children who are not immunized.

Myth: Vaccines cause autism
Fact: Despite a lot of research, scientists and doctors have not found a link between childhood vaccinations and autism or other developmental problems. Children who are not vaccinated do not have lower rates of autism spectrum disorders.

Myth: Vaccines are given too early
Fact: Early vaccination protects your child from serious diseases that are most likely to occur, and most dangerous in babies. Waiting to immunize your baby puts him or her at risk. The recommended vaccination schedule is designed to work best with children’s immune systems at specific ages. A different schedule may not offer the same protection.

Myth: Too many vaccines are given at once
Fact: You may have heard stories that the recommended vaccine schedule overloads children’s immune systems and may even cause autism. But research shows that spacing out vaccinations does not improve children’s health or lower their risk of autism, and as noted above, actually puts them at risk for potentially fatal diseases.

What To Do If You Are Worried

If your child’s developments delayed, or if you observe other red flags for autism, schedule an appointment with your paediatrician. In fact, it is a good idea to have your child screened by a doctor even if he or she is hitting developmental milestones on schedule.

Schedule an autism screening: Screening tools have been developed to identify a child’s risk for autism. Most of these screening tools are quick and straight forward, consisting of yes-or-no questions or a checklist of symptoms.

See a developmental specialist: If your paediatrician detects possible signs of autism during a screening, you should be referred to a specialist for a comprehensive diagnostic evaluation. Screening tools cannot be used to make a diagnosis, which is why further assessments are needed. A specialist will conduct a number of tests to determine whether or not your child has autism. Although many clinicians will not diagnose a child with autism before 30 months of age, they will be able to use screening techniques to determine when a cluster of symptoms associated with autism is present.