5 Factors that Might Contribute to Autism

Creative Commons License photo credit: Lance Neilson

When you talk about the possible causes of autism, inevitably someone is going to bring up vaccines. While there is certainly disagreement among parents, the bulk of scientific research doesn’t demonstrate any link between the two.

We’ll sidestep the vaccination debate today¸ however, and look at some of the other factors that may be related to autism in children.

Here are five factors that can have an impact on a child’s risk of autism:

  1. Genetics. Like so many other conditions, there may be a genetic element to autism. In fact, for families that already have one child with autism, there’s a 5% chance of having another child with autism. Among sets of twins with autism, where one twin is diagnosed the other usually is. This happens in 90 percent of cases.
  2. Pesticides. There’s some evidence to suggest that exposure to the chemicals in pesticides may have a contributing element to autism. Generally speaking, these pesticide exposures would need to be in high concentrations. Rather than consuming food where pesticides were used, being exposed to them in the course of daily work may lead mothers to have children that are more likely to have autism.
  3. Medications. There are a number of potential pharmaceutical products that, when taken by a pregnant woman, can increase the risk of autism. Two that are known are thalidomide and valproic acid.
  4. Parents’ age. Older parents have a higher risk of having a child with autism. In fact, for women over 40, there is a 50 percent greater risk than there is for women in their 20s.
  5. Brain development. As the brain develops in the womb, irregularities can occur. In particular, irregular neurotransmitter levels are thought to be tied to autism. Specifically, dopamine and serotonin are the neurotransmitters that research has looked at most closely

Obviously, we’re not yet to the point where we fully understand everything that causes autism, or what factors may be involved. As time goes on, researchers are discovering more and more just how elusive this condition can be.

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