What causes Autism

No one knows exactly what causes Autism spectrum disorder; that is a big part of mystery. Scientists have found no one clear cause for autism though there are several factors that are common throughout the research. The most common is that autistic sufferers have abnormalities in their brain. When compared to non-autistic people, autistic brains are shaped differently and function differently. There are many theories concerning the factors that contribute to autism in which genetics, heredity, and environmental aspects are suspected.

On the basis of belief system parents believe following can be the causes of ASDs

Genetic factors


Medical causes

Personal responsibility

Religious beliefs

The belief system assigns blame on the causes of ASDs, as explained below:


Scientists generally agree that there is at least a genetic basis for autism, although this may still be debated by some psychology researchers, parents of children diagnosed with autism, and members of the autistic community. Many researchers suspect that autism results from genetically mediated vulnerabilities to environmental triggers. And while there is disagreement about the magnitude, nature, and mechanisms for such environmental factors, researchers have found seven genes prevalent among many individuals diagnosed as autistic.

There is little disagreement on the heritable component of autism. Originally hinting toward this was the observation that there are about a 60% concordance rate for autism in identical twins, while non-identical twins and other siblings only exhibit about 4% concordance rates.

A number of studies reveal that there are definite physical changes in the brains of individuals on the autism spectrum. The frontal lobes, cerebellum, hippocampus and amygdala are enlarged, while the corpus collosum is smaller than normal. Axons link our brain cells together, and in autistic individuals there are too many of these in local areas of the brain, and not enough linking different areas together. It is not known yet if these changes in the brain are the cause, or just effects, of Autism Spectrum Disorders. In some cases, parents and other relatives of an autistic person show mild social, communicative, or repetitive behaviors that allow them to function normally but appear linked to autism. Evidence also suggests that some affective, or emotional, disorders, such as manic depression, occur more frequently than average in families of people with autism. We know for sure that autism runs in families. Siblings of autistic people are more likely to be autistic, and twins are extremely likely to share autistic traits. This means there is almost certainly a genetic component to autism.

Vaccinations as an alleged cause of autism

A theory that is very popular among parents is that vaccines that use thimerosal as a preservative are to blame for the prevalence increase in cases of autism. Popularity in this theory may because the characteristics of autism often appear at around the same age vaccinations are carried out. Nevertheless, the link is inconclusive. Ip et al (2004) compared hair and blood mercury levels in autistic children with those of non-autistic controls and found a 10% increase in blood and hair mercury levels of autistic children, which is not statistically significant. Their results are questionable in that they chose to analyze mercury levels in children who were already diagnosed with autism.

If exposure to mercury at a particular stage in a child’s development were to make that child more susceptible to autism, studying children who already have autism will not find this link. Furthermore, their study looks at children with an average age of approximately seven years, whereas early onset autism (thought to be linked to thimerosal) has “onset prior to age three years” (DSM-IV). A more appropriate study would involve mercury levels in children prior to age three years.

The MMR vaccine for measles, rubella and mumps has also been claimed as a cause by many parents of autistic children. Madsen et al (2003) found no reduction in the prevalence of autism inDenmarkafter MMR vaccinationwas phased out. However, this work has serious omissions in that they failed to look at vaccines containing thimerosal and did not differentiate between regressive autism (thought to be linked to MMR) and early onset autism (thought to be linked to thimerosal).Although most scientists believe the evidence is convincing that combination MMR vaccine is not involved as a casual factor in ASDs. For these reasons, and because mercury is no longer used as a preservative in vaccines, parents should not avoid immunizing their children. The medical community has soundly refuted these theories, but a very passionate group of parents continue to disagree, based on anecdotal evidence.

Beliefs about other medical causes

Parents of children with ASDs often believe events occurring during pregnancy, at the time of child birth, or in early infancy are linked to their child’s ASDs (Bolton et el., 1997). Mothers usually blame themselves for their child’s condition.

Beliefs about personal responsibility

Parents usually wonder if they have done something wrong. Parents often have an initial tendency to blame themselves for their child’s ASDs.  Among the 61 biological parents of children with ASDs, 27 have reported their own involvement, as they see themselves as a failure in protecting their child from the monster of Autism.

Religious Beliefs

It has long been recognized that religious beliefs can help families make sense out of tragic events such as diagnosis of child’s disability (e.g., MacIntosh, Silver). There are parents who do not think that they have been rewarded or punished, instead they show their faith as a reliance on God to know what is right for them and their child. Religious beliefs help these families to create meaning, to make sense out of their situation, and to place their experience in larger perspective.

Does belief system helps in coping and suggests a pathway to cure?

It is found that parents hold a wide variety of beliefs about the cause of their child’s autism, including genetic factors, events surrounding the child’s birth, and environmental influences in the early childhood period. Some parents continue to attribute their child’s autism to immunizations, although more recent studies suggest the frequency may be decreasing. Some parents are pessimistic about their child’s future while others are hopeful that new strategies will be developed. Some trust that society will become more accepting of their child’s idiosyncrasies.

The beliefs parents or professionals hold about the causes of ASDs are reflected in how they think about the process of diagnosis, what they consider effective intervention, and how best to respond to children’s behavior. Parents’ perceptions of the cause of an ASD in their child also contribute to the satisfaction with the services they receive, the extent to which they follow the recommendations of medical and educational professionals, and their parenting.

Parents’ beliefs about the cause of their child’s autism have been found to have an impact on decisions regarding future health care, family planning, and maternal mental health. The link between parental beliefs and their choices for interventions has not yet been empirically explored. Understanding parental beliefs about autism cause has important clinical implications for providing culturally-sensitive patient-centered care through parent education and informed discussions about treatment choices that would best serve their child and family. It is always positive to encourage parents to make active use of their chosen approach to coping as long as it involves constructive hope building behavior. Identifying parents’ beliefs about their child’s illness may be an important step in formulating interventions facilitating appropriate care and a pathway to cure. What do you think??


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