What Causes Autism?
The cause or causes of autism remain under debate. Some point to environmental factors while others look at genetics. Researchers have studied brain scans to identify differences in the shape and structure of the brain compared to typically developing children. Other researchers are investigating the possibility that under certain conditions, a cluster of unstable genes may interfere with brain development, resulting in autism. Others have looked at viral infections, metabolic imbalances, and exposure to environmental chemicals.
Our best guess is that it is a genetic disability that may have environmental triggers.
How did we get to this point? Research was conducted with identical twins. When one child had been diagnosed with autism, the study examined what happened with the other child. If these twins had the same genetic make-up and autism was just a genetic disorder, it would be assumed that the other child would also have autism. And this was the case about 75% of the time. The real mystery is what happened the other 25% of the time. Perhaps autism is a genetic disability that is influenced by environmental triggers.
The human race has made a lot of changes to our planet during the past 100 years. We have introduced a wide variety of chemicals to our bodies, changed what we eat and drink and greatly altered how we live on this planet. It is difficult to assess how many of these changes may adversely affect our health — and the health of our children. Perhaps some of these changes explain why the frequency of autism is on the rise.
Is Autism On the Rise?
Yes, the frequency of autism is on the rise.
In the early 1990’s, the frequency was predicted to be about 1:1,000. The Center for Disease Control (CDC), the Autism Society of America (ASA) and others now expect the frequency to be 1:68 or even greater.
We know that we have a better understanding of autism and professionals are able to identify the disability more accurately than years before. Physicians, psychiatrists, psychologists, educators and others are more aware of the characteristics of autism and help families obtain a proper diagnosis earlier. And early diagnosis is the key to getting proper supports and helping a child.
Yet we also suspect that the growing numbers are more than a result of better trained professionals. Some argue that if better diagnosis is the reason, then we would see changing numbers of other developmental disabilities — but that hasn’t been the case.
There actually appears to be a growing number of cases of autism. Research indicates that the trends among students in school reflect a tsunami of children with autism that are now entering the adult service system. This will challenge many areas of the country to respond with antiquated service delivery systems that are under funded at best.
Contact The Homestead for more information on autism causes and other information about the disorder.