When it comes to the etiology of autism, various theories have been proposed in the last few decades. With the rise in autism prevalence across the United States (and globally), questions around what causes autism and its impact on modern-day society have been a subject of intense discussion. Let us take a quick look at some stats below:

Autism Numbers on a Steady Rise

Over the recent years, cases of confirmed diagnosis of Autism have continued to increase at a range of 10 to 17%, much higher than previous decades.

Autism fact Sheet
Fig 1: Autism Facts (the knowns and Unknowns)

Where is autism heading?

What is Etiology of Autism?

First let me explain what etiology is. Etiology, in medicine, is by definition, “the causes of a disease or abnormal condition”. Therefore, the etiology of autism would normally translate to the ’causes of autism’. Autism Speaks is one of the foremost global research organizations in the world. They promote cross-disciplinary cooperation, fund raising for research and therapy, organizing research and therapies and establishing standards for the collection of data to be used by the scientific community.

Etiology of Autism
Fig 2: Etiology of Autism – In a Diagram

There are four basic concepts that are looked at and investigated in a disease or disorder, and Autism is no exception. They are:

  • Etiology of Autism – What are the Autism Causes
  • Biology of Autism – What is Autism?
  • Diagnosis – How is autism diagnosed?
  • Treatment – What are the options for treatment of autism?

Today, the focus of our discussion would be around Why and how do people get autism? Our goal would be to understand what triggers or makes a person susceptible to autism.

Supporting Facts on Etiology of Autism

Let’s take a look at some of the etiology as we know today:

Factors That May Have a Link to Autism

Birth Related Etiology of Autism
Fig 3: Birth Related Etiology of Autism
CNN Report on Top 3 Key Causes of Autism
Fig 4: CNN Report on Top 3 Environmental Causes of Autism
  • 12 to 13% of autism cases seems to stem from premature births and pregnancy issues. Low birth rate and premature birth do not necessarily cause autism, but according to the Center for Disease Control in the United States, these factors are closely tied to autism in children. The evidence seems to points that the actual underlying cause of autism may lie in what actually causes prematurity and low birth rates. Research continues daily on these topics.
  • Genes and their nutrients interact in order for a fertilized egg to develop. Recent research has shown that children with a genetic susceptibility or abnormal Omega 3, which protects the cells (when exposed in utero, or directly after birth from virus or bacteria) can cause malfunctions in the cells leading to Autism.
  • Recent studies support the view that there is a link between autism and the EN2 gene. The EN2 gene is involved in normal development and problems with this gene may contribute to over 40% or autism diagnosis. Please read Is Autism Genetic?
  • The research into the possibility of the toxins (generated by the industrial world) interaction with the processes of weak cells has often shown devastating effects.
  • Cells cannot function or develop normally in the presence of viruses, bacteria, foreign toxins and heavy metals.
  • Some bacteria produce lipopolysaccharides that can cause multiple disruptions in the brain which affect learning, memory, mood, and attention.

Recently Busted Myths on Etiology of Autism

what cases autism
Fig 5: Etiology of Autism – the Known Factors that Cause Autism
  • A new study in July of 2014 has found that there is no link between autism and mercury levels in mothers and their newborns.
  • Genetics alone cannot be responsible for autism otherwise every generation would have the same number of Autism diagnosis. Between 1990 and 2000 autism spectrum diagnosis has risen an alarming 870%. Since genetics alone can be ruled out as the main cause we have to look to environmental changes of the industrial world.
  • Vaccines may cause Autism – no they do not!
  • Environmental Factors like Poor Parenting or “Refrigerator “Mums – During the 1950s, there was a common misconception that autism may be caused by emotionally distant or indifferent (cold) parents. Though the exact cause of autism is yet to be determined, and we do know Autism may be caused by environmental factors, it is however firmly established that autism has little to do with a child’s parenting.

Is Nutrigenomics related to the Etiology of Autism?

What is Nutrigenomic?
Fig 6: What is Nutrigenomics?
Nutrigenomic's relation to Disorders
Fig 6: Nutrigenomic’s relation to Disorders

Evidence is emerging that Autism might be a Nutrigenomic disorder. This means that there might be an interaction between genes and nutrients. Our genetic code has not changed in over 100 years; therefore, research is looking towards the food chain and our diet which has changed dramatically over the last few decades. We have introduced chemicals, antibiotics, pesticides, additives and preservatives to our food.

Real nutrients have been depleted in our food due to high volume farming with the use chemical fertilizers rather than organic ones. Antibiotics are prescribed almost instantaneously at the slightest sniffle in infants; this excessive use may play an important role. We have also changed our cooking methods with the use of slow cookers which drain the nutrients out of the food. The use of microwaves routinely destroys some of the vitamins and bioflavonoid. As you can see there has been a dramatic change in our eating habit just as there has been a dramatic increase in autism.

No Relationship of Vaccines and Autism

There has always been a controversy on whether there is a link between Autism Spectrum Disorders and childhood vaccines. The vaccines most in question are the MMR vaccines which are the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine. In spite of extensive research, there has been no conclusive evidence to demonstrate a link between Autism Spectrum Disorders and vaccines. Therefore, don’t subject your child to unnecessary risks by avoiding these vaccines! Still confused, please read Vaccines Cause Autism?

How Autism Brain Functions

Excess circuits in Autistic brain
Involvement of the excess circuitry
autistic brain growthAutism has always been considered a neurodevelopment disorder. Recent studies also indicate that there might be a unifying cause. Researchers suggest that higher-order association areas of the brain, that connect to the frontal lobe in a normal child, are partially disconnected in an autistic child. Though the research is still in infancy, it can go a long way in explaining the behaviors, cognition, heterogeneity, and etiology of autism.


Ash
Ash

I am Ashish, the admin for this website. Having grown up with an Autistic brother, I understand the hurdles families face dealing with Autism. I have also realized that lots could be achieved by harnessing the strengths of Autistic children to integrate them into the society. Here, we share the objective to make that information freely available! Read more

    1 Response to "Etiology of Autism"

    • Bug

      It would be very helpful if you provided links and references for the research findings you present. I would love to learn more about the EN2 gene or the nutrigenomic factors in autism, but I’ll have to take the time to do a search on Google Scholar or elsewhere. It would be much more convenient (and your article would be much more substantive) if you added links to any cited study papers above. Keep up the good work though!

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