Causes of Autism

Statistical reports and data on autism still do not provide an accurate picture and there is a lot of speculation about the exact number of children and adults who suffer from the condition. There is even more speculation and debate over the causes of autism spectrum disorder.

The biggest conflict of opinions is focused on whether there is a link between autism causes and vaccinations such as the MMR or Measles – Mumps – Rubella vaccine given to infants. One theory suggests that this vaccine may cause health problems that lead to autism or that the mercury-based preservative used to produce the vaccine could be connected to the development of autism. In the absence of inconclusive evidence, these still remain theories, and to date there is no proven link between autism and vaccination. At present, all we have are several cases of autism, in which the link to vaccination could just be coincidental.

As much as parents and doctors would like to put the blame on a certain cause or factor that results in autism, the unfortunate truth is that autism still remains an idiopathic condition. What this means is that there is no specific cause for the disorder. Some possible causes of autism in children may be:

  • Genetics: Studies show that families with autistic members are more likely to have children, who are autistic. Genetics could thus well play a role in the causes of autism.
  • Differences in the Brain: Research shows that the brains of autistic people are larger than normal and function differently as well. Experts continue to work on this theory to provide more conclusive evidence on the same.
  • Medical conditions: Metabolic disorders, congenital infections, genetic disorders, brain abnormalities, and neurological disorders may be linked to the development of autism in some children. However these underlying conditions cannot be the only reason for autism as all children who suffer from them do not develop autism.

While autism is definitely influenced by genetics, there are also environmental causes of autism at work. Experts understand that genetic changes rarely occur in a vacuum and non-genetic or environmental factors could result in the increase of cases in the autism spectrum disorder. In-depth research is being conducted on what these factors could be as the more they are understood, the better the chances of successful treatment of the condition.

  1. American Academy of Pediatrics, Committee on Children With Disabilities. Technical report: the pediatrician's role in the diagnosis and management of autistic spectrum disorder in children. Pediatrics. 2001;107(5) . Available at:
  2. Scott M. Myers, Chris Plauché Johnson the Council on Children With Disabilities Management of Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders Pediatrics 2007 120: 1162-1182.