What causes autism?

The medical community does not definitively know what causes autism and the range of autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). Autism and ASDs are known to be complex, so it is likely they have multiple interconnected causes. Scientists and researchers are exploring thousands of environmental and genetic influences on fetuses, infants and children that may make them more likely to develop an ASD. The specific influences under investigation include medications, other medical conditions, viruses, and chromosomal abnormalities. It is, however, generally accepted by medical providers that poor parenting practices do not cause autism.

There has also been a significant amount of discussion and research about whether childhood vaccines are linked to autism. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), The American Academy of Pediatrics, and The Institute of Medicine (IOM) all state that no research has shown an association between vaccines and the development of ASDs, and that the benefits of vaccines outweigh any risks from them (Source: CDC).

What are the risk factors for autism?

The cause of autism and autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) is not yet known. Research is active and wide-ranging to identify what makes a person more likely to develop an ASD. However, there are two known risk factors for developing an ASD:

  • Family history, such as a parent or sibling with an ASD

  • Male gender

  • There are also co-occurring diseases that develop in a small percentage of people with autism. They include:

  • Epilepsy (brain disorder characterized by strange sensations, behaviors and seizures)

  • Fragile X syndrome (inherited form of mental impairment)

  • Intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDDs) such as Down syndrome

  • Tuberous sclerosis (genetic disorder that leads to benign, noncancerous tumors in the central nervous system)


What is autism?

Autism is a neurobiological disorder that affects the brain. Autism is characterized by social and language challenges and excessively repetitive routines and behaviors. For example, a person with autism may have an obsession with a certain topic, such as airplanes, and have high-energy temper tantrums. A person with autism may also have problems making eye contact, or may show you he or she is... Read more about autismintroduction


What are the symptoms of autism

Symptoms of autism begin early in life. Parents of children with autism generally notice symptoms of autism by their child’s first or second birthday.

Characteristic symptoms of the most severe type of autism, called autistic disorder, include social and language problems, abnormally repetitive routines and behaviors, and extreme sensory feelings. However, specific behaviors and c... Read more about autismsymptoms


How is autism treated?

There is no cure for autism or autism spectrum disorders (ASDs), but there are several therapies available that can help an autistic child’s development and behavior. The goals of autism treatment may include managing tantrums, learning social skills, and helping improve focus and attention span. Each person with autism has unique behaviors and symptoms, and requires a personalized treatment pl... Read more about autismtreatments

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Aug 9, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Brain and Nerves