So, What Really Causes Autism?

Many scientists, doctors, and even parents have tries to come up with theories on the causes of autism. From genetic mutations, to vaccines, to other diseases, there are a wide variety of things believed to contribute to autism. Last blog period, I actually wrote a post on the belief that vaccines cause autism. I used to have some belief in this theory, however I no longer believe this theory. I now see this theory as dangerous because by not giving children their vaccines, parents put their children at risk for other deadly diseases. In my opinion, it is silly to blame vaccines for causing autism. Millions of children are vaccinated every year, and if they did cause autism, I fully believe we would see exponentially larger cases of it. After personally discrediting the vaccination theory I decided to do my own research into the other two major theories surrounding the causes of autism.

According to this article, scientists have yet to find the exact cause of autism. Autism is believed by many to be caused by abnormalities in genes. A lot of research has been conducted on sets of twins and triplets to try and study the different genetic mutations. The study results were consistent with the alternative hypothesis stating that autism is indeed caused by both genetic and environmental factors. The study found that if one member of a family has autism, there is a good chance that somewhere else down the line of genetics, another occurrence of autism will be seen. Interestingly enough, your chances of seeing another case of autism rise down the line increase even more if the family member who has autism is a female. Personally, I think this study is quite valid. For starters, it observed twins and triplets, people who share the exact same genes. I feel as though this was a great way to start. By looking at one twins genes and comparing it to the other twins who had autism, researchers could clearly see the large role genetics plays in autism.

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Another popular belief in society is that autism can be caused by various diseases a mother or a child may get early on in life. According to this article, in the 1970s, doctors began to see a rise in the number of pregnant mothers who were contracting Congenital Rubella Syndrome (CRS). While the issue was eventually taken care of and a vaccination was found, many people believe that the lingering effects of those who had this disease is causing autism. According to the article, many children with autism often exhibit the same symptoms as those with CRS.

One researcher named Stella Chess did multiple studies in attempt to prove the link between CRS and autism. In her first study, she look at a large group of children with CRS. Out of those children, the amount of children with autism was 200 times higher than the normal amount of children who have autism among the regular population.  A few years later, she restudied the majority of her original group and was able to diagnose four more cases of autism.

While I am not a supporter of theories that point to diseases and vaccinations as the cause of autism, I must admit that this study does provide some pretty significant evidence for CRS playing a role in the occurrence of autism. However, the article has no mention of the genetic history of those who were diagnosed. Also, a bit of meta-analysis would have greatly benefitted the authenticity of Chess’ findings. If she had also analyzed other studies done on patients with CSR and autism, it could have backed up the point she was trying to make. If their findings were consistent with hers, that would have been even more convincing evidence for me.

Over-all, I think the two theories I presented here are pretty valid. However, the one I put the most faith and trust in is the theory that genetic mutation is what causes autism. It is the most widely accepted theory and seems to be the most practical. Truthfully, I think the theory is the most easily proven one. The vaccination theory and the disease there rely heavily on anecdotal evidence and correlation, which we have learned to be not-so-solid evidence. I truly hope that someday, a true cause for autism is found so scientists can come up with the proper way to treat it.  

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4 thoughts on “So, What Really Causes Autism?

  1. Jason Williams

    Margaret,

    I agree with your conclusion fully on that genetic mutations are the most likely cause, and although there may be other causes, vaccines are not it. That idea you proposed that the most reasonable explanation is the most likely made me think of a philosophy concept I learned at school. A 14th century logician, William of Ockham, stated that the simplest or most straightforward answer to a problem is more likely to be the correct one than a complex answer. This principle is now modernly known as “Occam’s Razor” and is often used in problem solving, even if unconsciously by the decision maker. Rational decision making is very difficult and applying concepts like Occam’s Razor can help to provide clearer decisions.

    Here’s a UC Riverside page about Occam’s Razor: ucr.edu

  2. Natalie Elizabeth Burns

    I really liked this article because of the way you posed the question and how you applied what we we learned in class to this problem. I agree with you when you disagree that diseases are to blame however, I feel as though it is not all genes. My personal belief is that is might be a nature and nurture situation that causes autism. I found this blog entry http://psychologicalperspective.blogspot.com/ on nature and nurture and autism. I feel like it does a good job at talking about autism and how there are many factors are come into play when discussing the cause. As you said at the end of the article, I hope they find out what causes autism soon so that we can treat it the right way.
    Great post!!

  3. Isaac Chandler Orndorff

    Hi,

    My first question is, what made you first believe vaccines caused autism? Was it just hearing it on the news, or from someone explaining this to you? Second, I don’t agree with your hypothesis that genetics are the sole casue of autism. I think, like most things, both your genetics and your environment will increase the chance of autism. For example, my family doesn’t have any history of autism. However, if I have a child that has autism, I would think it was due to a complication in the pregnancy over my genetics causing it (or obviously look towards my wife’s family’s history). So, I agree with your hypothesis but I think your environment is just as important as genetics.

  4. Asaad Saleh Salim Al Busaidi

    Hi,
    I have also read in an article – link is provided below- that not only genetic mutations could be responsible for causing autism, but also exposure to some chemicals during pregnancy could increase the chances of giving birth to a child with autism. However, the article did not provide reliable evidence for theory and has only recommended some steps for pregnant women that would decrease the risk of being exposed to certain toxic substances that many studies has proven that theses toxic substances are associated with risks for some developmental disorders.

    https://www.autismspeaks.org/science/initiatives/environmental-factors-autism-initiative/avoiding-toxic-exposures-during-pregnancy

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