Although autism has become a fairly common disorder, there is still a lot that it not understood about it. One of the things that are the least clear is what causes autism. There has been a great deal of speculation about the reasons for its occurrence, but there has been little evidence to support most of these theories.
One of the most accepted ideas about the cause of autism is that certain individuals are genetically predisposed to it. However, that doesn’t mean that children who inherit the unknown gene will certainly be autistic. It is thought that many people have the gene, but the only ones who develop autism are those that are exposed to some sort of environmental catalyst. This could potentially explain why the numbers of autism sufferers have grown exponentially in recent years.
The idea of an autism gene is disheartening for parents of autistic children who would like to have more kids. They worry that because one child has autism, any other children they have will also be autistic. But this is not necessarily true.
Studies have shown that parents of an autistic child have a one in twenty chance of having another autistic child. In the general population, the chance of a child being autistic is one in 150. So while it does appear that there is an increased risk for siblings of autistics, they are not absolutely destined to be autistic themselves.
Studies have also indicated a possible correlation between certain traits in parents and relatives and an increased chance of autism in a child. These include autism-like characteristics such as impaired social and communication skills and emotional problems such as bipolar disorder.
Children who have certain other medical conditions are also more likely to end up with autism. These include fragile X syndrome, tuberous sclerosis, Tourette syndrome, and epilepsy. Another risk factor is advanced age of the child’s father. Children of men who are over 40 are about six times more likely to be autistic than those of men who are under 30.
While there are certain risk factors that have been discovered, it’s simply not possible to predict whether or not a child will be autistic. Some autistic children have all of the genetic factors associated with the disorder, but many children with no apparent risk factors are also autistic. And some kids with all of the risk factors do not develop autism.
The good news is that doctors are studying autism like never before, and they are getting closer to finding the answers every day. And once the cause is determined, we will be much closer to seeing a cure or means of prevention.