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What Causes Autism? Understanding The Reasons Causing Autism

Autism is a developmental and neurological disorder which occurs in during early childhood. While nobody exactly knows the reason for it, with years of research and studies we have been able to figure out the various known factors that can be the causes of autism. Out of these, the most common ones include genetics, vaccinations, ante-natal and perinatal factors, environmental factors, gut issues and some theories that suggest the role of heavy metals. However, we still cannot rule out any specific causes of autism and mostly rely on these probable factors that could have contributed to the risk of developing Autism. Understanding these factors has given some idea as to how they increase the tendency of a child to develop autism.

Genetic Causes of Autism

Genes seem to have a significant influence in developing Autism. Studies do suggest that autism has a strong connection with the genetic variation and heritability. Various genotypes have been related to cause autism. The fact that it is more common in identical twins gives us substantial evidence of the role of genes in causing autism. Also, if there is any known case in the family, the chances of having autism is higher in the other kids.
A consanguineous marriage (Married in blood relation) increases the probability of having autism, indicating the role of similar genetic coding as an important factor. In the genetic study of kids having autism, we have seen certain gene mutations are commonly found and are known to cause developmental, cognitive and intellectual disorders.

There are various chromosomal duplications or deletions which are related to Autism. Some of the common genetic mutations found in autism are:

  • fragile x
  • 22q13 deletion
  • 1q21.1 microdeletion
  • chromosome 18 deletion (Distal 18q deletion syndrome)
  • chromosome 15 deletion (15q13.3 microdeletion)
  • chromosome 15 duplication (Duplication of 15q11-13 chromosome region) Chromosome 22 duplication, etc.

Most of these chromosomal mutations are known to cause intellectual disabilities, delayed development, learning disabilities, seizures, microcephaly or behavioral issues in children. Genetic screening is therefore advised in a majority of the cases of autism to rule out the presence of any such genetic mutations. If present, genetic testing for both the parents is conducted to find similar genetic changes in either or both the parents. Also, a history of Down’s syndrome has been found in cases of autism.

History of certain psychiatric disorders like depression is commonly seen in the family of kids with autism. Also, kids with autism spectrum are at high risk of developing depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and anxiety. So, the genes that make an individual vulnerable to develop a psychiatric disorder might also have some role to play.
Also, there are many cases where we do not find any genetic mutations or known case of autism in the family. Further research work is still being carried out to find a definitive analysis of the role of genes in autism.

Vaccinations

There is a strong relationship observed between vaccines and the onset of autism. Sometimes, parents report a regression in the child after a vaccination shot. However, it is unclear what exactly is the role of vaccinations in autism. The most common vaccine that has been a suspected cause of autism is the MMR vaccine. It is a trivalent vaccination preserved in a mercury-based solution and is used against Measles-mumps-rubella virus. The mercury base of this vaccine is also thought to cause autism. Thimerosal is a mercury-based preservative found in many vaccinations. This heavy metal seems to have some toxic effect on the central nervous system (CNS) and increases the risk of autism. In the United States, vaccinations are now being prepared without the mercury or lead-base preservative. There are still some doubts that vaccines do increase the risk of autism in children. But many studies suggest that autism is more common in kids who received vaccination rather than in those who did not.

Pregnancy-Related Causes of Autism 

Some conditions if present during pregnancy can increase the probability of Autism developing in the child. However, it is uncertain how significant a role these factors play in the development of autism. But there are certain conditions which are frequently found in the gestational history of autism cases. Below are some of those common complications or conditions:

Infections during Pregnancy

Infections like German measles or cytomegalovirus if present during pregnancy increases the risk of autism in the child.

Rubella

Also known as German measles, it can lead to some serious side effects on the baby’s development if a pregnant woman gets infected with it during pregnancy. The infected female might show some flu-like symptoms, for example, a low-grade fever, runny nose, headache, redness of eyes or joint pains. A rash usually follows these flu-like symptoms. It can cause some serious effects on the unborn baby, like congenital rubella syndrome, microcephaly, vision problems, premature baby, miscarriage, or stillbirth. The baby may also be born with some birth defects.

Cytomegalovirus (CMV)

It is a virus which is only carried by humans. Females infected with it mostly do not show any major symptoms, while some might complain of fever, swollen glands, cough or cold. Therefore, it is usually confirmed by the CMV test which is always recommended during pregnancy. CMV might not always have a significant impact on the baby, but in some cases, it can lead to a poor hearing, poor vision and also cause intellectual impairment in the baby.

Gestational Diabetes

When a female develops diabetes (high blood sugar levels) during pregnancy, it is called gestational diabetes. It might not directly lead to autism, but its effects and consequences and can make the baby prone to develop autism. If a mother has diabetes, it can cause hypoxia, growth abnormalities, and the baby can be too large for the gestational age (This can increase the risk of having an assisted/instrumental delivery like vacuum/forceps or C-Section). It can also cause intra-uterine growth retardation and also makes the mother vulnerable to have premature labor. It can trigger the production of excessive insulin by the pancreas of the baby and causes hypoglycemia.
Gestational diabetes also commonly causes depression in pregnant females. A newborn can develop hypocalcemia (low calcium levels) and hypomagnesemia (low magnesium levels). If the diabetes is not controlled during pregnancy, it can also lead to respiratory distress syndrome in the child.

Thyroid during Pregnancy

Having thyroid disorders during pregnancy is very common, and it is not mandatory that the child will develop some developmental issues because of it. However, it is one of the contributing factors which might increase the risk of intra-uterine growth retardation, miscarriage, preterm delivery or low IQ levels of the child. Also, there is some association of thyroxine deficiency which produces changes in the brain of the unborn baby and makes him vulnerable to develop autism.

Usage of Certain Drugs

There have been some drugs identified, whose usage during pregnancy can increase the probability of having autism in the babies. Some of these drugs include anti-epileptic medicine, anti-depressants, and drugs used to prevent premature labor. There is no proven evidence that they do cause autism but it has been observed that their administration increases the risk of autism by three folds. The risk of developing autism is higher especially if the baby is exposed to these drugs during the last months of pregnancy.

Age of Mother at Conception

It is commonly seen that if a woman conceives after or around the age of 40 years, the child is at a higher risk of developing Autism or other developmental issues. Teenage pregnancy is also related to increasing the risk of autism in the child.

Twin-Pregnancy

Autism is commonly seen in the cases of twin or multiple pregnancies. Gene studies show that there is some relation between twin pregnancy and autism. Autism is especially more common in identical twins than in fraternal twins.

Other conditions

Some other conditions which can increase the risk of autism include depression during pregnancy, oligohydramnios (reduced amniotic fluid), obesity in mothers, smoking, un-natural mode of conception like ovulation therapy, IVF. These factors have been identified in diagnosed cases of autism as a part of the history of pregnancy.

Complications at Birth

Any condition which can cause fetal distress or delay the initial oxygen supply to the brain can be a factor predisposing the child to develop Autism or other developmental delays later. Many conditions are a part of the birth history which are related to autism.

Contributory Conditions

Meconium Aspiration

When a neonate aspirates (breathes in) the stool at the time of birth, it is called Meconium aspiration.
Risk factors for Meconium aspiration include difficult or prolonged labor, post-maturity or advanced gestation age, or if the mother is a smoker. The aspiration of Meconium leads to the obstruction of airways of the fetus. If the aspiration is for a long duration, it causes increased lung resistance, acute Hypoxemia, fetal hypoxia, infection and pulmonary inflammation. The hypoxia at time of birth can lead to autism or other developmental disorders in the child. It also leads to a syndrome commonly known as Meconium Aspiration Syndrome.

Symptoms of Meconium Aspiration include:

  • Bluish/greenish discoloration of the baby
  • Problems with breathing
  • Low APGAR SCORE
  • Low heart rate

Hypoxia (Reduced oxygen supply) to the brain

There are various complications at the time of birth that can cause reduced or delayed oxygen supply to the brain of the newborn baby.
This delay in oxygen supply can lead to some significant developmental delays in the child.

Prolonged/Obstructed Labor

Prolonged labor that lasts very long can cause fetal distress, reduction in the fetal heart sound, or hypoxia.

Assisted Delivery

Assisted deliveries that make use of a vacuum pump, or a forceps delivery can be other reasons leading to reduced oxygen supply to the brain. They can also affect the head circumference of the neonate at birth.

Delayed Birth Cry

Another significant sign which indicates reduced or delayed oxygen supply to the brain at birth is a delayed birth cry. It is a critical factor and must be ruled out in every case of autism.

Umbilical Cord Around Neck

An umbilical cord wrapped around a baby’s neck in case of a standard vaginal delivery can have a suffocating effect, again causing fetal distress or reduced oxygen supply.

Hypoglycemia at Birth

Hypoglycemia refers to low blood sugar levels, while neonatal hypoglycemia refers to a temporary drop in blood sugar in infants. It usually occurs at birth or within the first few days after birth. It is one of the common causes of brain injury in infants. The source of glucose during pregnancy is through the placenta, and after birth, it is the breast milk. The liver of the infant also produces a certain amount of glucose. The brain uses sugar or glucose for building up tissues and is an essential source of energy.

Causes of Hypoglycemia

  • Premature babies
  • Kids born to diabetic mother are vulnerable to develop it
  • Production of excess insulin
  • Lack of an adequate amount of breast milk being fed to the baby
  • Insufficient glucose being produced by the baby
  • Intra-uterine growth Retardation
  • Congenital metabolic syndrome
  • Hypoxia at birth

Symptoms of Hypoglycemia

  • Bluish discoloration of skin or Cyanosis
  • Loose muscle tone
  • Breathing issues, it may be fast, or there may be apnea
  • Vomiting
  • Weak cry
  • Low body temperature

If continued for a longer duration, hypoglycemia can result in neurological damage and can also cause any of the following severe conditions:

  • Epilepsy or seizures
  • Brain damage
  • Cerebral Palsy
  • Developmental disorders like Autism
  • Learning Disabilities
  • Affects the Cardio-vascular function

Gut-Related Causes of Autism 

Gut or gastrointestinal issues are some of the most common disorders associated with autism. There are various gut disorders, food allergies, and deficiencies that have been associated with autism. It is difficult to say if they play the causative role, but they contribute to developing autism. Some of the recent research also suggests the role of gut bacteria. Certain gut disorders related to autism are gluten sensitivity, coeliac disease, leaky gut syndrome, milk allergy, chronic constipation, diarrhea and irritable bowel syndrome.
Presence of these gut issues in autistic kids can also increase their behavioral problems. Kids with autism respond very effectively to certain diets, which indicates the role of the gut in autism.

Diets that are gluten-free, casein-free or anti-yeast help in controlling behavioral symptoms, sleep patterns, and hyperactivity in autistic children.

Leaky gut syndrome causes chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation also seems to trigger some symptoms of autism. The theory behind it is that chronic inflammation decreases the IgA levels. IgA (antibody immunoglobin A) plays an essential role in protecting the body against yeast infections. Yeast is considered to make the child vulnerable to develop sensory concerns that make the child more hyperactive, sleepless and frustrated.
Deficiencies can also be considered as the contributing factors. Children with autism are commonly to found to be low on iron, B12, magnesium, etc. Vitamin B12 plays a vital role in the manufacture of the myelin sheath (layer on nerves), carbohydrates, and production of neurotransmitters. Low magnesium levels produce symptoms like poor focus and concentration, poor memory issues, tremors, muscle cramps, twitches and generalized seizures.

Heavy Metal Load

Many neurological disorders have been associated with heavy metal toxicity. Exposure to certain heavy metals has been found to increase the risk of autism. Mercury, Lead, Aluminum, and Zinc are the most common ones.
High levels of mercury may cause brain damage and increase the probability of neurodevelopmental delays. It doubles the risk of developing autism.
Mercury is commonly found in various vaccinations as a preservative, especially in hepatitis-B vaccine and MMR.
Fish is also a good source of mercury, eating an excess of fish can also raise mercury levels.
There are also reports that if the mother is exposed to heavy metals or pesticides during pregnancy, it can affect the mental development of the fetus inside the womb.

Seizure / Epilepsy

A seizure is a brain disorder which occurs due to excessive or abnormal neuronal activity in the brain. Epilepsy is a disorder where when one has a tendency of recurrent seizures.
About one-fifth of kids with autism have an associated epileptic history. It can’t be exactly said that epilepsy causes autism or autism increases the chances of epilepsy. But both share some relation.
Kids with epilepsy are more prone to develop autism. And there are some changes in the brain of the autistic kids which predispose them to develop epilepsy or seizures.
A family history of epilepsy is also found in cases of autism, showing some relation between the two. Treating seizures in autism also helps lower the severity of the developmental delays and cognitive symptoms.

There are also some genetic changes associated with autism in which we find epilepsy to be an important feature. A sleep EEG can help detect epileptic activity in children.

Environmental Causes of Autism 

Certain environmental conditions like air pollution, extreme cold weathers, and exposure to environmental chemicals during pregnancy can increase the risk of developing autism. Common environmental toxins like herbicides, insecticides or pesticides are harmful to the brain development of the baby in the womb. So, if a female is exposed to all these (especially during the last trimester of pregnancy), the probability of developing autism gets increased.

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Comments

  1. Hello, need help.

  2. need help

  3. I think that yes, it’s fair. As long as you have the support syetsm (emotional, social, financial) in place so that you will be able to care for both children, and provide for both of their needs which may be very different. As long as one of the kids is not neglected due to the needs of the other child, I think it could be a pretty fantastic experience for everyone involved I am an autistic and adopted only child parenting an autistic only child and I think that the one thing missing from our family is another child. If I were to adopt, I’d lean toward adopting a child with autism, as I can’t imagine raising a non-autistic child or attempting to balance raising one of each (for lack of a better term). I wish we had the option to add another child to our family, but I feel like I’m strapped already (I have rheumatoid/autoimmune arthritis and spine damage). Hope this helps Let us know what you decide!

  4. hi…. Dr.sharma you don’t know who i am . my name goutham and i things i am suffering from
    austim … i am 17years old i amvery disapear for who i am … can you tell me what is my problem..

  5. Aleishia Skye Barkschat says:

    After working with children who have Autism for several years, I am convinced that it occurs almost specifically in children who a dominantly right hemisphered with their brain & have been introduced to man made chemicals!! I believe I am correct in saying this statement because I haven’t seen Autism occur in a child who is right handed or seen it develop in a child of an incredibly homeopathic mother!!

  6. Laura Edwards says:

    My son tejay, is 5 years and 11 months and was diagnosed with asd and global development delay in January 2011. He has limited speech of few words. He attends specialist provision since sept 2012 and has not really made much progress and is more and more in his own world and refusing to participate in most things and is very violent towards me. I constantly worry about what his future holds. I have read about where you said about homeopathy and overcoming autism, do you think that would help my son or is it too late for him as he is very set in his ways. What can you advise for me to do in order to engage him more, strengthen his attention span and ways to bring on speech and communication?

  7. I think in my previous e mail I omitted some facts which may also be of interest.
    My son still drinks milk and only rarely will drink pepsi max or sip my coffee or tea.
    I discovered by chance that he was able to recognise words before the age of 3½. (For his first 2yrs he was only interested in books, not toys)
    He has always enjoyed interactive learning
    He tends to line up his cars rather than play with them and runs them past his eyes looking at them.

    I continue to try and stimulate him in any and every way possible but now also having to try and make allowances for him requiring some time to himself. We finally managed to find a violin teacher this year (something which has hed a fascination for him since he was young)
    He is doing well and enjoying it. He also plays the keyboard (mainly self taught) and his teacher is impressed saying that she doesn’t know how he does what he does as he’s apparently playing some quite complex elements.

    When my son speaks he tends to whisper rather than speak in a normal voice, yet he will ‘sing’ loudly and other odd times he will actually speak rather than whisper. When he does sing or speak louder he also seems to speak better.

    I just desperately want him to speak and to speak so that not only do I understand him but he is generally understood. Many (very wrong) assumptions seem to be made about my son because he doesn’t speak and that is very annoying and frustrating.

    If you have any ideas I would be very grateful to hear.

  8. mara anthony says:

    Dear Doctor Sharma
    I am a grandmother and have noticed my 18 month old granddaughter is not responding normally to others around her. Some of the symptoms are
    walking up and down the room waving both hands in a flapping motion, virtually no eye contact. not reacting to pointing or responding to her name.arranging and rearranging blocks. Not reacting to her three year old sister,s hugs. Not bothered if her mother /father is around,moving around the cot moving the pillow back and to until she decides its in the right place,sleeps on her tummy, She also has exzema. Her parents lost an earlier baby, one of twins and are in total denial. How can I help them to find you if you feel you can help that is?

  9. T Muralidhar Rao says:

    sir, please find the filled Rating Form in respect of my son T Harshit Raj for your information and necessary action through E Mail…………………..T Muralidhar Rao, Hyderabad,..9618263120

  10. my son is 4 yrs old and he is moderately autistic. I am interested in homeopathy treatment for him,but have a couple questions…can the medicines be given in liquid form?- that is the only way he will take meds. Also my son attends preschool from 7:30 a.m -2:30 p.m and they will not give the meds …can they b taken around his school schedule? E-mail is the easiest way to communicate because my work schedule varies… Hope to recieve an e-Mail fromu soon. Thankyou-Tina Palmer

  11. My son is 10+ yrs old. He is high function autistic boy. He finds difficulty in learning maths and concepts. He lacks in language too. He knows certain things but he is not able to express it becoz of language problem. But he can say to certain extend but not able to express things in an elaborated way. Doctor pls suggest me is there any treatment to improve his language and learning ability.

    Await for your mail.

  12. Davinder Kaur says:

    Dear Dr. Sahib,
    My son is 5 and half years old and was diagnosed with Autism in the age of two and half years. Speach and occupational therapies are going on since then a little change, which is very slow. He is very hyper, can’t sit still, love jumping and running. He can continuiously jump for hours. He even can’t rest in illness, body feels hot, sweat a lot when tries to sleep. strong desire for sweet food, choclates, busy in lining up things, always keep two things in hands, line up them in front of eyes or sideways of eyes and always on go. Now has started speaking a little bit, he know A-Z alphabets, speeaks few very clearly, have difficlyty to speak L & R, know his 1-20 counting, but says just bigining of counting words. Write 1-20 with little support to albow, but grip to pensil is too loose. He is going school in pre-primary and has speacial teacher always with him. says few words, but only when we encourage him to say,f for example: bye, hi, papa, me-me, ipa.. (ipad), song. He love tv and music, all the time wants if music can play around him.
    Actually we are basically from India (Chandigarh) and living in Australia for last 8 years. When he was just 1 and half year he was looking more alert and started few words, but then I started working full time and was always with his grandmother. She and he always watch movies while I was on work, his attention toward outer world got minimise, even ended.
    Around three years before, our family from India consulted homeopathy doctor and he advised for bryta carb 30, we started that two days a weeks 2-3 drops. After a year later we visited India to see that doctor and to talk about his other problems, like sensetivity to glutun, milk. He gave few medicins, we came back and within one week, costipation (very severe) started and we stop all medication. But now only bryta carb we started again for last month.
    We are very worried, as he now can eat gluton and milk products, but constipation is still as it is. Doctor has advised to go for gasto biopsy.
    Doctor can you treat our son? Please we will pay all your fees, my brother-in-law can come to you, please give us some time to talk to you on phone. We can send you his IQ test report, which just done recently.
    His eye-contact is very limited, now if we strictly want him to do some thing, he getr angry and kicks and cries.
    Doctor, I appreciate your time and advice!
    Kind regards,
    Davinder Kaur

    • Chandrashekhar kalambe says:

      Respected doctor
      I want to mention the case of my five years old daughter suffering from mild autism she is already going through homeopathic treatment for autism. She is very hyperactive. yet she not tells the urine and potty ,she don’t like to play with children. she has started saying some words but not clear. we have joined her speech therapy and general awareness sessions. last year i have admitted her in nursery class but this year they suggested to repeat the same class. Please let me know at what age according to you she will outgrow autism and would be able to attend the normal school? What should I do with her behavioral problem?

  13. hello doctor
    my daughter has autism and adhd.she is on biphentin(adhd)medicine,my question is can i give her homeopathy medicine with biphentin or not

    thank you

  14. i want more informationm about autism

  15. mavra ashfaq says:

    my daughter was 26 yrs old when she concieved her son,her third child.she has thelsemia trait from her paternal side.her gynae gave her three blood transfusion in the last month of pregnancy,could that b the cause of her son’s autism? or the MMR vaccination? he is going to be 4 years old in september,he hasn’t learned to talk,o eye contact,is very shy,does not eat on his own,throws tantrums by screaming and banging his head.which homeopathic remedy would you suggest and in what potency and dosage.

  16. Kanchan Mahale says:

    Need your suggestion does she is autistic and what should do for her mental development.does the homoeopathic treatment should add with convulsion treatment.

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