Causes and risk factors of autism spectrum disorder (ASD)

If you are the parent or relative of someone with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), you may want to know what caused it. However, there is no direct answer to this question, because there is no single cause for ASD.

Studies have pointed out that certain risk factors make some people more susceptible to this disease than others. Risk factors include family members who have also been diagnosed with the disease, environmental factors such as severe pollution, and premature birth.

Brain and body risk factors

Let’s look at some risk factors that may increase the likelihood of autism.

Brain shape and brain growth during development

Brain scans of people with autism show that there are differences in certain brain structures compared to neurotypical people.

In early childhood, the brains of children with autism grow faster than usual. The connections between their brain cells may also be poor. In children without autism, a process called pruning (the brain gets rid of connections that do not need to make room for important connections) does not happen effectively in children with autism.

Infections during pregnancy

Some studies point out that pregnancy is the point in time when a child may be susceptible to ASD. Bacterial infections during pregnancy are thought to increase the risk of ASD in unborn children, but this is only a slight association, and in most cases, it has no effect in the development of this condition.

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Family history and genetics

Research shows that family history and genetics play a role in the development of the disease. Complications of having a baby during pregnancy or later may also play a role.

Families with a history of ASD

Children from families with a history of this disease are at higher risk of developing this disease. Even if both parents of the child do not have ASD, they may be carriers of the genetic changes that cause autism and can be passed on to the child.

When a child is diagnosed with ASD, the next child may have up to 20% chance of developing the disease. If the first two children in a family have ASD, the risk of ASD for the third child is approximately 32%.

The intergenerational transmission of this disease is not fully understood. It is impossible to predict who in a family with a history of ASD will or will not develop ASD. A meta-analysis of studies on how genetic factors affect the development of ASD in twins found that the overall heritability of ASD is between 64% and 91%.

Neurexin 1 is a gene that all of us have, and it plays a vital role in brain communication. Some studies have shown that the destruction of this gene is a factor leading to autism. However, there is no evidence that the disruption of this gene alone can lead to autism.

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There is evidence that ASD may involve multiple genes. ASD is sometimes associated with other neurodevelopmental disorders, such as Down syndrome and Fragile X syndrome. In addition, the Reelin gene plays an important role in the stratification of the brain during pregnancy, and it is related to autism.

Childbirth in old age

Parents who do not have a family history of the disease but start giving birth at an advanced age have a greater risk of ASD in their children.

Pregnancy complications

Pregnancy complications such as multiple pregnancy and preterm birth are also contributing factors. In addition, some studies have shown that pregnancies less than one year apart may also put children at risk of ASD.

Environmental risk factors

Certain environmental influences may increase a person’s risk of ASD. In addition, people who already have a genetic predisposition face a higher risk when exposed to these environmental factors.

Environmental factors also often include events that occur after a person becomes pregnant. For example, some evidence suggests that certain anticonvulsants taken during pregnancy may cause ASD in children.

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Most research on the etiology of ASD has focused on its connection with family history and genetics. However, young children are exposed to thousands of toxic substances during their early childhood and pregnancy.

Lifestyle risk factors

In the past, it was thought that certain vaccines would cause ASD. However, extensive research has tested this theory and it has been proven that no vaccine can cause ASD.

ASD began to appear as early as 18 months, and because many children were vaccinated with different types of vaccines in the early stages, the development of ASD was mistakenly linked to vaccination.

Until more research is conducted on the causes of ASD, parents of children with ASD are often accused of causing this condition. Some people even claim that the lack of attention and care of the parents of children with ASD may cause this condition. This is untrue, and decades of research continue to refute these theories.

This theory prevailed between the 1950s and 1970s, when people knew little about ASD and mistakenly thought it was a mental disorder rather than a neurodevelopmental brain disorder.

No one can point out a single cause of ASD, but when the condition progresses, it is by no means the parents’ fault.