What is autism?
Autism is a complex bio-neurological disorder that affects an individual's communication, social skills, behaviors, learning, and immune system. However, no two autistic individuals are the same. It is said that "once you meet one person with autism, you have only met one person with autism".
Because autism is a disorder/syndrome, the diagnostic criteria is based off of behaviors. There are not any laboratory blood tests for autism because it is not a disease.
Autism is a "spectrum disorder" known Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). This means that some individuals are affected by autism more than others are. This is typically described as "low-functioning", "mild-functioning", or "high-functioning". Asperger's and PDD-NOS are considered on the "high-functioning" end of the spectrum.
What causes autism?
There is no one-single cause of autism. Although complex, it appears that a combination of environmental toxins/conditions and genetics play a role. Genetic factors have been theorized to cause 25-40% of cases of autism. It is likely that combinations of many rare genetic variations can cause autism, but in many cases it appears that environmental factors can play a role in the expression of these genes and the development of autism. Some recent research has theorized that over 260 genes can play a role in the development of autism and environmental factors might include viruses, heavy metals, drugs, pesticides, xeno-chemicals, among many others.
What are some common autism symptoms?
Although all individuals with autism present the symptoms differently and no two are the same, some common symptoms include:
- Lack of social and communicative skills.
- Intense interests in one or two topics.
- Little eye contact.
- Repetitive behaviors and routines.
- Prefer to be alone.
- Self-stimulatory behaviors (hand flapping, vocal utterances, repetitive behaviors)
- Lack of abstract thought...everything is black and white..no grey areas.
- Strict adherence to rules
- Lining things up in order.
- Prefer to be alone.
- Little imaginative play.
- History of chronic infections and food allergies.
- Gastro-intestinal issues.
- Aggression or self-injury.
- Poor gross and/or fine motor skills.
- Delayed language development.
- Sensitivity to touch, smell, and sounds.
- Autism affects 1 out of every 68 children today.
- It is the most common developmental disorder.
- A male is 5x more likely to develop autism than a female.
Taking antidepressants during pregnancy increases risk of autism by 87 percent.
- Breastfeeding may help prevent autism.
- A child born in the summer is more likely to develop autism than a child born in the winter. It is speculated that this could be due to pregnancy during winter flu season.
- Pregnant mothers living in areas with high air pollution are twice as likely to have a child with autism.
- Pregnant mothers living within a mile of farm using pesticides were found to have a 60% increased chance of having a child with autism.
- Taking the drug Valproate during pregnancy increases the odds 5x for a child with autism.
- Prenatal exposure to chemicals in some cosmetics and over-the-counter medications can alter lipid levels that have been found to increase the odds of autism.
- A mother with low Vitamin D levels is at a higher risk to have children with autism. The child with autism is then likely to have low levels of Vitamin D as well. Vitamin D is important because it affects over 1,000 genes in the human body. That is over 1/24th of the entire human genome. To learn more about Vitamin D and autism click the Diet tab under Resources.
- An induced and augmented delivery is 27% more likely to result in a child with autism than a natural birth.
- Women who are obese during pregnancy are 67% more likely to have a child with autism.
- Although autism is usually a life-long disorder, a small number of children with autism do eventually lose their autism diagnosis after behavioral and/or medical/nutritional interventions.
- In 2012, Talk About Curing Autism (TACA) found that families spent on average $27,000 per year in out-of-pocket expenses related to autism.
- Women who take anti-asthma drugs during pregnancy might increase the odds of the child having autism,
- If a girl's maternal grandmother smoked during pregnancy, the girl is 67 percent more likely to display certain traits linked to autism, such as poor social communication skills and repetitive behaviors.
- Abrahams BS, Geschwind DH. Advances in autism genetics: on the threshold of a new neurobiology. Nature Reviews Genetics. 2008;9(5):341–55
- Gardener H, Spiegelman D, Buka SL. Perinatal and neonatal risk factors for autism: a comprehensive meta-analysis. Pediatrics. 2011;128(2):344-355
- Miles JH. Autism spectrum disorders—a genetics review. Genet Med. 2011;13(4):278-294