What’s the Real Cause of Autism?

According to the CDC, one in 88 children has an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). As we noted last week, this means the condition is being diagnosed about a thousand times more often today than it was 40 years ago. Sure, doctors are getting better at spotting the problem—but what else is going on?

We asked our Facebook fans what they think is the cause of autism. Fully 18 percent believe vaccinations cause autism—a stubborn myth that has been disproven again and again by science.  “Large-scale epidemiologic studies in a number of countries clearly demonstrate that vaccines are not responsible for the autism epidemic,” says Sharecare expert Dr. Mehmet Oz. Countless other experts agree. As one Facebook fan put it, “We know vaccines aren’t the cause. Let’s move on from that and find out what the real reason is.”

There is one small caveat. Dr. Michael Roizen says “Vaccines might trigger autism in a small number of genetically primed individuals with a very rare preexisting disease of the mitochondria; and these people most probably would have developed autism even if they hadn’t received the vaccine. In this situation, a virus or another environmental insult can just as easily be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.”

Genes and environmental factors garnered the most votes in our poll, and they are indeed the most likely culprits, experts say. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “We have learned that there are likely many causes for multiple types of ASDs. There may be many different factors that make a child more likely to have an ASD, including environmental, biologic and genetic factors.”  In fact, a study published just yesterday in the online issue of  Pediatrics found that children of obese mothers have a 67 percent higher risk of autism than kids born to normal-weight moms.

Only 6 percent of our Facebook fans chose the age of the parents at conception, but in fact, the age of Mom and Dad—especially Dad—does matter, Roizen says.

Finally, despite what some think, “No factors in a child’s experiences or in parenting styles are responsible for autism,” according to the Dan Marino Foundation.

Symptoms of autism include avoiding eye contact, having trouble understanding other people’s feelings, obsessive interests, getting upset by minor changes, repeating words or phrases over and over, rocking or spinning in circles and unusual reactions to the way things sound, smell, taste, look or feel.

Want to talk about it? Visit the Autism/Autism Spectrum Support Group on DailyStrength.

What do you think is the biggest misconception about autism? Let us know in the comments box below.

Additional Research by Taylor Dahl

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Marianne Wait

A devoted health junkie, Marianne believes that information plus inspiration equals action. She spent many years at Reader’s Digest creating health books designed to help people understand complex health topics and achieve their health goals, from lowering their cholesterol and blood sugar to losing weight to sharpening their brain power.

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