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The True Causes of Autism Spectrum Disorders

"What are the true causes of Autism Spectrum Disorders?  I hear so many different theories from so-called experts, which seem to muddy the waters rather than shed light on the topic. Also, are the rates of ASD increasing as rapidly as the 'experts' say they are?"

This is a very hot topic, because so many people have their own pet theory based on a limited amount of research and hear-say.

Studies measuring Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) prevalence (i.e., the number of kids affected by Autism Spectrum Disorders over a given time period) have reported varying results, depending on when and where the studies were conducted and how the studies defined Autism Spectrum Disorders.

In a 2009 government survey on Autism Spectrum Disorders prevalence, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that the rate of Autism Spectrum Disorders was higher than in past U.S. studies. Based on health and school records of 8-year-olds in 14 communities throughout the country, the CDC survey found that around 1 in 110 kids have an Autism Spectrum Disorder. However, more recent research suggests that the prevalence rates are much higher than 1 in 110. Males face about four to five time’s higher risk than females (although there is varying opinion of this statistic as well).

Researchers disagree about whether this shows a true increase in Autism Spectrum Disorders prevalence. Since the earlier studies were completed, guidelines for diagnosis have changed. Also, more moms and dads and pediatricians now know about Autism Spectrum Disorders, so they are more likely to take their kids to be diagnosed, and more pediatricians are able to properly diagnose Autism Spectrum Disorders. These and other changes may help explain some differences in prevalence numbers. Even so, the CDC report confirms other recent studies showing that more kids are being diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders than ever before.

Scientists don't know the exact causes of Autism Spectrum Disorders, but studies suggest that both genes and environment play important roles:


In identical twins who share the exact same genetic code, if one has an Autism Spectrum Disorder, the other twin also has it in nearly 9 out of 10 instances. If one child has an Autism Spectrum Disorder, his/her other siblings have 35 times the normal risk of also developing the disorder. Researchers are starting to identify particular genes that may increase the risk for Autism Spectrum Disorders. Still, researchers have only had some success in finding exactly which genes are involved.

Most individuals who develop an Autism Spectrum Disorder have no reported family history of autism, suggesting that random, rare, and possibly many gene mutations are likely to affect an individual's risk. Any change to normal genetic information is called a “mutation.” Mutations can be inherited, but some come about for no reason. Mutations can be helpful, harmful, or have no effect at all.

Having increased genetic risk does not mean a youngster will definitely develop an Autism Spectrum Disorder. Many scientists are focusing on how various genes interact with each other and environmental factors to better understand how they increase the risk of this condition.


“Environment" refers to anything outside the body that can affect one’s health (e.g., the air we breathe, the water we drink and bathe in, the food we eat, the medicines we take, etc.). Environment also includes the child’s surroundings in the womb, when his/her mom's health directly affects growth and earliest development. Researchers are studying many environmental factors (e.g., family medical conditions, parental age and other demographic factors, exposure to toxins, complications during birth or pregnancy, etc.).

As with genes, it's likely that more than one environmental factor is involved in increasing risk for an Autism Spectrum Disorder. And, like genes, any one of these risk factors raises the risk by only a small amount. Most individuals who have been exposed to environmental risk factors do not develop an Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Scientists are studying how certain environmental factors may affect certain genes (e.g., turning them on or off, or increasing or decreasing their normal activity). This process is called “epigenetics” and is providing scientists with many new ways to study how disorders like Asperger’s and High-Functioning Autism develop and possibly change over time.


Doctors recommend that kids receive a number of vaccines early in life to protect against dangerous, infectious diseases (e.g., measles). Since doctors in the U.S. started giving these vaccines during regular checkups, the number of kids getting sick, becoming disabled, or dying from these diseases has dropped dramatically.

Young people in the U.S. receive several vaccines during their first 2 years of life (around the same age that Autism Spectrum Disorder symptoms often appear or become noticeable). A minority of moms and dads suspect that vaccines are somehow related to their youngster's disorder. Some may be concerned about these vaccines due to the unproven theory that Autism Spectrum Disorders may be caused by “thimerosal.” Thimerosal is a mercury-based chemical once added to some vaccines to help extend their shelf-life. However, except for some flu vaccines, no vaccine routinely given to preschool kids in the U.S. has contained thimerosal since 2001. Despite this change, the rate of kids diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders has continued to rise.

Other moms and dads believe their youngster's disorder could be linked to vaccines designed to protect against more than one disease (e.g., the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine), which never contained thimerosal.

Many studies have been conducted to try to determine if vaccines are a possible cause of autism. As of 2010, none of the studies have been able to link autism and vaccines. Following extensive hearings, a special court of Federal judges ruled against several test cases that tried to prove that vaccines containing thimerosal, either by themselves or combined with the MMR vaccine, caused autism.


Anonymous said...

Really useful link, thank you.

Anonymous said...

The cause information is very helpful, and makes the most sense. Thank you so much!

Anonymous said...

I'm writing from Ireland. What I'd like to know is how as a society we can teach others, especially children, about Aspergers and similar syndromes and about what beautiful, pure minds and interesting personalities they are missing out on by not getting to know.

Teaching ethics in school and about syndromes such as Aspergers might help. It might reduce the level of bullying and mistreatment that such kids experience. It could be explained that we are all on some spectrum or another. Your forum might be able to find a way to introduce these topics in school.

I would also like to mention that there is a terrific TV drama being screened in Ireland at the moment called "Trivia" on RTE, you may wish to look into viewing ( try RTE Player for re- runs). The main character Lawrence effectively has Aspergers / is literal minded. It is a comedy series, Aspergers is not the focus but viewing it certainly helped me to understand the Aspergers mind better. The main character Lawrence is very literal minded and gets lost at times regarding what people are trying to say and continually puts his foot inadvertently in his mouth. He is obsessed with pub quizzes.. All the same he is a warm, loving and respected character. If people could relate this character to Aspergers they might be more sympathetic and understanding. I would definitely recommend viewing the series.

Unknown said...

Take a look at their actual research. The studies that they claim to showing no vaccine link to ASD, only involved CDC funded epidemiological studies looking at one vaccine, (MMR); and one single vaccine ingredient, (thimerosal. Thus they claim to having done all the needed studies, and having looked at all the existing studies, and they conclude that vaccines do not cause ASD, correct; and that is what we are told to believe as fact. No need to look any further?

Why have they not looked at vaccines in general, multiple repeat and combined vaccines? Why have they not looked at aluminum vaccine adjuvants? And the vaccine safety issue itself goes far beyond just the causation ASD. We have children over-all today across the board with more chronic illness, disorders, cancer; and you name it-than ever before in history. Is it a coincidence that this all seems to have happened with a direct correlation to the increase in vaccines given?

On this site right here, there are a number of studies listed on aluminum vaccine adjuvants that may shock you if you have never seen any of this before. This is existing and available unbiased science. Why is the CDC not acknowledging any of it nor following up with further studies?

Vaccine Damage-Science

Vaccines Cause Autism and More - The Scientific Explanation

How about vaccine contamination; they tell us in the CDc information that all the vaccines are purified through a step process; as a fact they clearly are not all purified and residual contaminants can and do remain.

Vaccine Production With - Human Diploid Cells (aborted fetal cell tissue)

Until the public demands the answers, and though pressure on the US Congress, there will likely be no change. The pharmaceutical companies can not be sued for any harm done, all of that is now with the federal vaccine court since 1987. Ask the question; what systems are in place to require accountability of and by the FDA and CDC? There simply and currently are none existing, as a fact.

slim cheats said...

My son has asperger he's 9, very clever & I love him to bits, we've just had to remove him from mainstream school because there is not enough support or understanding from kids or teachers, its just disgusting. Nothing in place for any of his sensory issues, just punishment & how he's different to others, kids take the p*ss & bullies targeted him. To anyone reading this please understand how vunrable people with asperger really are. Bless him :( now I'm home educating & trying to enroll him into a specialist asperger school.

My child has been rejected by his peers, ridiculed and bullied !!!

Social rejection has devastating effects in many areas of functioning. Because the ASD child tends to internalize how others treat him, rejection damages self-esteem and often causes anxiety and depression. As the child feels worse about himself and becomes more anxious and depressed – he performs worse, socially and intellectually.

Click here to read the full article…

How to Prevent Meltdowns in Children on the Spectrum

Meltdowns are not a pretty sight. They are somewhat like overblown temper tantrums, but unlike tantrums, meltdowns can last anywhere from ten minutes to over an hour. When it starts, the Asperger's or HFA child is totally out-of-control. When it ends, both you and your child are totally exhausted. But... don’t breathe a sigh of relief yet. At the least provocation, for the remainder of that day -- and sometimes into the next - the meltdown can return in full force.

Click here for the full article...

Parenting Defiant Teens on the Spectrum

Although Aspergers [high-functioning autism] is at the milder end of the autism spectrum, the challenges parents face when disciplining a teenager on the spectrum are more difficult than they would be with an average teen. Complicated by defiant behavior, the teen is at risk for even greater difficulties on multiple levels – unless the parents’ disciplinary techniques are tailored to their child's special needs.

Click here to read the full article…

Older Teens and Young Adult Children with ASD Still Living At Home

Your older teenager or young “adult child” isn’t sure what to do, and he is asking you for money every few days. How do you cut the purse strings and teach him to be independent? Parents of teens with ASD face many problems that other parents do not. Time is running out for teaching their adolescent how to become an independent adult. As one mother put it, "There's so little time, yet so much left to do."

Click here to read the full article…

Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism

Two traits often found in kids with High-Functioning Autism are “mind-blindness” (i.e., the inability to predict the beliefs and intentions of others) and “alexithymia” (i.e., the inability to identify and interpret emotional signals in others). These two traits reduce the youngster’s ability to empathize with peers. As a result, he or she may be perceived by adults and other children as selfish, insensitive and uncaring.

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to read the full article...

Highly Effective Research-Based Parenting Strategies for Children with Asperger's and HFA

Become an expert in helping your child cope with his or her “out-of-control” emotions, inability to make and keep friends, stress, anger, thinking errors, and resistance to change.

Click here for the full article...