While the exact cause for autism is still unknown, research is being conducted which is pointing towards the possible causes behind autism spectrum disorders. So far, the evidence has been coming from some of the most unusual sources. Let’s see the factors where the link to autism spectrum disorders has been established.
- Environmental factors:
Parents concerned about the causes behind autism and the increase in the number of cases of autism suspected that autism developed due to mercury poisoning, diet, inability to use vitamins and minerals and side effects of vaccine. Of these, the most controversial are mercury poisoning and side effects of vaccines. In fact, many studies have been conducted showing that vaccines are 100% safer and do not cause or promote any diseases or disorders of any sort, particularly autism. (Gerber, Offit, 2009).
- Exposure to pesticides
Pesticide exposure in pregnant women is believed to be one of the worst ways to induce disorders to the unborn child. Recent studies point that the rates of pesticide exposure in pregnant women is higher, particularly when the women use pesticide in and around their homes, on their pets and consuming food with such residues can result in several developmental issues for the unborn child. We might think that pregnant women being exposed to pesticides would be remote. But, contrary to popular belief, a survey showed that 83% of pregnant women in the US had detectable levels of pesticide residue in their system. Going further, animal studies on exposure to various pesticides and mercury showed a similar social withdrawal, particularly in the male species. (Shelton, Hertz-Picciotto, Pessah, 2012).
- Genetic factors
In the recent years, genetic studies are being conducted to know the exact biological causes behind autism. Though, the results are still inconclusive, researchers think that their research is headed in the right direction because of the present results have at least confirmed few suspicions about genetic factors in autism such as genes affecting various metabolisms in brain that might be behind autism.
- Mutations passed down from parents
Another possible explanation for autism development has been linked with older parents. According to one study, the risk of mutation in older parents is much higher compared to young parents. When these mutations pass on to the next generation, the result could be the development of autism spectrum disorders.
- Mitochondrial dysfunction
Mitochondria is one of the major components in a cell. It is often called the ‘powerhouse of the cell’ because it helps in converting glucose into energy. If due to some reasons if the mitochondria do not work properly in cells, it can result in several diseases or disorders developing. Some of them include diabetes, Huntington’s disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Bipolar disease, Schizophrenia, aging and senescence, anxiety disorders, sarcopenia, etc. Now, with a preliminary research conducted on the presence of mitochondrial dysfunction in autism is pointing towards a new cause. In the study, children aged between 2 and 5 years suffering with autism were tested for mitochondrial dysfunction. The results have been consistent with the notion that mitochondrial dysfunction can be behind most cases of autism spectrum disorders. Of course, this study has to be continued to arrive at further conclusions and subsequent treatments. (Giulivi, Zhang, et al, 2010).
- Infections during pregnancy
Viral and microbial infections during the first and second trimesters of pregnancy can increase the risk of developing autism in the unborn child, one study has shown. The results suggest that infections during pregnancy may be triggering immune functions which seem to have a direct link with neurological development in the unborn child. The results are higher risks of mental and developmental disorders such as autistic spectrum disorders.
- Social issues
According to a study from the Harvard School of Public Health, women who were severely abused when young are three times more likely to have autistic children. Instances of severe abuse can include physical, emotional or even sexual abuse. The report says that abuse during the early years of life can have a deep impact on the brain and mind of the woman which can develop as autism in her child. This is a completely new discovery which is showing us a new dimension to the causes of autism. Researchers suspect that the girl who undergoes abuse will have an altered hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, altered immune system which in turn manipulate into higher risk of autism in the coming generation.
These are some of the causes that are directly linked to the development of autism. Some of these causes are not related to each other and hence have baffled even the scientific community. Today, the scientific community is trying hard to establish new causes and also whether or not old beliefs hold true or not.