Is Autism Genetic or Environmental?
The Archives of General Psychiatry published a research paper on potential environmental triggers of Autism through a twin study in California. The research compared genetic similarities in twins, and made varying assumptions based on environmental factors surrounding the pregnancies of the parents.
The study took a lot of assumptions into consideration as they calculated the impact of genetic vs. environmental studies, which effected the results of the study dramatically one way or the other as these assumptions were adjusted. The idea is that regardless of the results, there is a possibility of environmental triggers that can cause Autism, and therefore more research is needed.
The study is pretty impressive, as actual subjects were interviewed specifically for the research project as opposed to passive surveys being reviewed to look for common patterns. As such, the study took my attention. Still, I don't see the evidence compelling enough to make the claim so many news outlets take in saying environmental factors cause Autism.
So what does cause Autism? This is the frustrating question so many parents who receive the diagnosis have. How could this happen to us? What caused it? Where does the blame lay? What am I going to do?
The truth is, no one knows for sure what causes Autism. That's because Autism, unlike diabetes, the flu, or even cancer, is not a medical condition. Instead, it is a definition given to those what exhibit a specific set of behaviors. Those behaviors are what defines Autism, not a specific medical condition. Hence any number of things can "cause" Autism, if they cause a specific behavior.
So while I am more inclined to say, based on the research in the past 5 years, that Autism is a genetic disorder, there are those who can claim environmental causes. The difference? Most cases of Autism "caused" by environmental exposure (with the exception of environmentally related damage to the brain) are not permanent. For example, if someone is unable to process cassein or gluten properly with various enzymes can possibly show Autistic tendencies temporarily. But the effect wears off, unlike the majority of children on the Spectrum that I see in my sons class.Continued on the next page