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Risk factors for autism Print E-mail

Friday, 07 June 2013 00:00

Written by Dr. Deborah Bauers

When it comes to weighing the risk factors for autism, just how significant are statistics?  There’s no denying that there is an increased potential for developing autism in the presence of certain demographics. 

But does knowing the risks help to change the probability outcome that your child may or may not have autism?  

What is the risk factor of having a second child with autism if your first one has it?  It is questions like these that researchers consider when attempting to use information that is collected about the frequency of autism to help stem the tide of the increasing numbers of children being diagnosed with this spectrum disorder.

Much has been written that is nothing more than theory with respect to potential factors that might increase risk for autism.  Proponents of holistic medicine like the Vreeland Clinic in Vermont link the increase of diagnosed cases of spectrum developmental disorders to a decrease in exposure to natural vitamin D over the past twenty years.  According to their literature, avoiding sun exposure may have created a deficit of vitamin D an increase in Autism. But is this a proven fact, or just theory?

Advocacy groups like the Coalition for Safe Minds believe that vaccinations containing a mercury- based substance called thimerosal may be linked to an increased risk for autism.  In spite of their assertion that medical science has not done a through enough job of researching the potential relationship between measles, mumps, and rubella vaccines, U.S. courts have repeatedly denied claims for restitution based on a rulings that there is insufficient scientific information to link these childhood vaccinations to the cluster of pervasive developmental disorders of which autism is a part. The court’s finding is highly controversial among a myriad of child advocates who believe otherwise.

In the 1990’s UC Davis Health Systems published research findings that suggested that the advancing age of a maternal mother could heighten the risk of her infant developing autism. Previous studies have substantiated the link between fathers over 40 and an increased risk.  More study is needed to conclusively place older mothers at an increased risk for autistic offspring.

Multiple studies, most of which are inconclusive, have served to heighten the public’s awareness of how little we really know about developmental disorders like autism.  Though some preliminary findings can help individuals like you to make reasonable efforts to decrease the risk of your child having autism, others frighten us, confuse us, and turn us into reactive parents for whom a little knowledge can fuel inappropriate behaviors based on an incomplete body of scientific research to back them.

Researchers are at work continually following up new hypotheses and studying their findings to conclusively give the public the answers for which it is clamoring. There is a better way for parents to combat autism. Its basis is found in education about the realities of this disorder so that, while they may have little control over the currently suggested risk factors,  they can still be proactive in knowing how to help if their own child develops an autism spectrum disorder. According to Mayo Clinic, documented risk factors to be aware of that could increase your child’s potential for autism include the following:

1. If your child is a boy, he is 3 to 4 times more likely to have autism.

2. If you have one biological child who is autistic your chances increase of having another with the same disorder.

3. If you have a family history of neurologically related disorders such as Tourettes, epilepsy or Fragile X Syndrome, or other forms of mental illness that may be related to neurotransmitter function in the brain, there is a greater possibility of your child having a developmental disorder such as autism.

4. If you are over the age of 40 when you father a child, you increase the risk of that child developing autism.

In reality, there is a great deal more supposition about what the risk factors of autism might be, than scientifically conclusive information. Researchers continue to do their jobs and so should the public.  The best way to do that is to support the foundations that do the studies and educate yourself to know the difference between hype and credible research findings.  Anything more is generally counter-productive to finding solutions to mitigate the impact of autism in your children and in their future generations.


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