What are the Causes of Autism?

There have been many discussions on the causes of autism. Hypotheses include a wide range causes – from genetics, to food/nutrition, to immunization, and other environmental factors.

As of now, there is no known single cause for autism. Researchers are continuing to investigate the various hypotheses including genetics, environment and other medical conditions.

Genetic causes of autism?
On genetics, there is no specific gene that has been identified as the cause of autism. Many people, however, see that certain families can have a pattern of autism, hence the hypotheses that it may have a genetic basis continues to be studied. Also, some believe that there could also be a genetic basis for a predisposition to autism. This has yet to be confirmed as well.

Environmental and Medical Links with autism?
On environmental factors, research is ongoing on the effect of toxins in the environment (like some heavy metals) and whether these have any linkage to autism.

On other medical conditions, according to http://www.autism-society.org: ‘Autism tends to occur more frequently than expected among individuals who have certain medical conditions, including fragile X syndrome, tuberous sclerosis, congenital rubella syndrome and untreated phenylketonuria (PKU). Some harmful substances ingested during pregnancy also have been associated with an increased risk of autism.’

How to manage autism?

How do you Manage Autism should your child show the symptoms, or is eventually diagnosed with Autism?

Step 1: See a Professional. The first important step is to see a professional/ Developmental Pediatrician immediately if you notice any ‘red flags’ in your child. This is sometimes easier said than done. There are a variety of emotional and social factors that make parents delay seeing a professional. Some are ‘afraid’ to see a professional, as having a professional verify a diagnosis is very daunting. Other parents are afraid of the social repercussion – what would in-laws and other relatives and friends say if they find out my child is ‘delayed’?

While these reactions are understandable, it is a big issue if parents allow these emotions and social factors to prevent them from seeing a professional early. If your child has autism, the earlier the diagnosis, the earlier the treatment, and the earlier the treatment, the higher the chance of success. Hence, it is important to see your professional immediately.

Step 2: Determine the best form of therapy/ies. Whether your child is diagnosed with autism, or is merely showing symptoms that are not fully defined, it is advisable to see if there are any therapies that can be of help.

This can be a daunting task as simple Google search will show an entire array of choices– involving everything from dietary changes, to various therapies, to some which may even be considered as the ‘fad of the month’.

Our advice is to look at the clinical data behind the therapy that you are considering. There are some which have data, but are not robust enough (ie done only on a limited number of people) to be considered a clinical study. Others do not have clinical data but only have testimonials or anecdotes to support its claims.

The method that has clinical proof to help children with autism is Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). It is a systematic program that starts with an assessment of the child’s behavior deficits and excesses, then goes on to creating behavioral lessons that teach the deficits and lessen the excesses. The US Surgeon General and various Ministries of Health in various countries have identified ABA as an effective way of managing and helping on the symptoms of autism.

Beyond ABA, and depending on the assessment of the child, there could be other programs that could be of help – such as speech therapy and occupational therapy, which can be done together with ABA to create a cohesive program for your child.

Step 3: Once you have decided which therapy to go for, decide which service provider/ clinic/ therapists are best suited for your child. Many factors can be involved in this decision, including logistical and financial considerations. However, we suggest that the best place to start is to look at the success record of the provider (length of time in service, data of success of clients). It is also important to look at the qualifications of those providing the service (is there adequate supervision for your child while therapy is in session). Once you are satisfied with this, then it is good to look at the details of logistical and financial considerations (are there hidden costs incurred, is there schedule flexibility, etc).

Step 4: Ensure there is a coordinated effort among the different people who provide therapy for the child. Many children with autism do a few forms of therapy – usually this involves ABA therapy, speech therapy, or occupational therapy or a few others. In this situation, it is helpful if the effort of all the different therapies are coordinated. Many professionals are more than happy to link up with other professionals working with your child to enable this. It is advisable for parents to coordinate this so as to maximize the effect of the therapy for your child.

Step 5: Understand and align with your therapist on your child’s short- mid- and long-term therapy objectives. The journey on getting a child to progress can take time. It is important that you have ongoing communication with your therapist, so that you become aware of progress to-date, and you align on milestones that will be targeted next for your child for the immediate months, as well as the mid and long-term. This will ensure that your plans and expectations are aligned with what your therapists have in mind.