When a child is diagnosed with Autism, often after months or even years of tests and doctors’ appointments, parents tend to ask themselves two things: how did it happen to my child, and how can it be treated?
In this article, we will address the possible causes of Autism, and next week we will consider some of the available treatments.
So, what causes Autism? In some children, it is possible to identify exactly what caused the condition; in others, the cause may never be known – they are ‘idiopathic’, which means they are ‘without a known cause’.
So much research has been carried out into the condition and its causes (in an effort to prevent further cases) and so many theories abound that it’s difficult to narrow them down. Here, though, are the main theories:
- Vaccines: there are two theories under this heading. The first, and best known, is that the MMR (Measles, Mumps and Rubella) vaccine somehow ‘overloads’ the system and causes Autism. The second is that an ingredient in vaccines called thimerosal (which is derived from mercury) is the cause. Whilst there has been no sound, scientific basis to prove either of these theories, there are countless parents and even doctors who firmly believe that there is a connection. It might be because the onset of Autism can (and usually does) happen very rapidly and usually at around the age when the MMR vaccines are given.
- Genes: Some cases of Autism clearly have a genetic element but as yet, no particular DNA element has been identified as the cause. There are plenty of cases of Autism that occur ‘spontaneously’, with a genetic mutation that isn’t inherited from either side of the family. Parents who have Autism in their wider families are more likely to have Autistic children, and if parents have one Autistic child they have an increased likelihood of having another with the condition.
- Bad Parenting: Definitely not. This is not a behavioural condition borne out of a poor environment. An early researcher into Autism, Dr Kanner (who first identified the condition) believed that ‘cold, refrigerator’ mothers were the cause. This is now known not to be the case, of course.
- Physiology of the Brain: Interestingly, physical differences have been found between the brains of a person with Autism compared with a person without the condition. Autistic brains are larger and process information in a different way. Research continues into this interesting and potentially useful theory.
- Immunity Deficiency: There is some evidence to support the theory that Autism is connected to the immune system. Researchers are looking for ways to boost the immune system in an effort to tackle the condition. Parents who subscribe to this theory treat their children in a bio-medical way and give them supplements and special diets and swear that they have seen improvements.
- Food Allergies: Many people think that gluten (which is a protein found in wheat, to which people with Coeliac disease are allergic) and casein (a dairy protein) may cause or contribute to Autism.
- Poor Nutrition: Mega-vitamin therapy has been used for years to treat Autism, boosting the body’s natural defences. Omega fish oils are said to be helpful in alleviating some symptoms associated with Autism.
Those are the main theories. The known causes of some types of cases of Autism are:
- Rett’s Syndrome, Tuberous Sclerosis, Prader0Willi Syndrome and Fragile X (genetic disorders);
- A drug called Depakote, or Valproate, if taken during pregnancy (it is an anti-seizure medication).
Parents often become pre-occupied with identifying the cause. Since so much is unknown, it may be better for parents and children to focus instead on making the best out of life and enjoying family life. Treatments that are available are well worth exploring, but don’t forget to treasure what you have too.