Autism

When one in 68 children have been identified with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), you can be certain that parents are going to be on high alert, but this rapid increase in children being identified with ASD is not exactly what it appears. According to a study conducted in Denmark, changes in reporting practices can account for most, 60 percent, of the increase in the observed prevalence of ASD in children born from 1980 through 1991.

The United States has changed it’s criteria for diagnosing autism, as well. Although this may not make the public sleep better at night, it is important to understand that the increase is not completely due to a sudden change in our environment. This allows for a more accurate study to be conducted to help us determine what is causing children to develop ASD.

What are some of the known causes of autism?

  • Mothers exposed to air pollution particularly in third trimester, have twice the risk of having a child with autism.

  • folic acid deficiency before and during pregnancy is linked to an increase in risk in ASD

  • exposure to prescription drugs valproic acid and thalidomide 

  • genetics; causing irregularities in several regions of the brain. Siblings of an autistic child have a 2-18 percent chance of being affected, and a twin has 36-95 percent chance; 20-30 percent of children with ASD develop epilepsy, especially children who have delayed language development. In determining how many people have ASD, the CDC has reported that approximately 10 percent of children with ASD have other genetic, metabolic or neurologic disorders that include bipolar disorder, fragile X syndrome, tuberous sclerosis and Down syndrome.

     “Other studies suggest that people with ASD have abnormal levels of serotonin or other neurotransmitters in the brain.  These abnormalities suggest that ASD could result from the disruption of normal brain development early in fetal development caused by defects in genes that control brain growth and that regulate how brain cells communicate with each other, possibly due to the influence of environmental factors on gene function. “ NIH

There are some chemicals that are being studied to determine if they are causing these abnormalities in the brain. 

  • Lead: most likely found in old paint and older plumbing

  • Mercury: major source is from coal-burning plants; found in some fish, high-fructose corn syrup

  • PCBs: found all over the environment, and the less fatty animal meat you eat the better

  • Organochlorine & Organophosphate pesticides; agriculture

  • Brominated Flame Retardants: found in furniture, electronics, certain sodas and sports drinks, and in household dust. 

  • Hormone-disrupting Chemicals: BPA and phthalates found in canned foods and beverages, as well as No. 7 & No. 1 plastics.

  • Polytetrafluoroethylene, also known as Teflon found on cooking pans and clothing.

Infants and young children should be screened for developmental delays. Symptoms can be subtle and can occur as early as infancy, according to NIH so make sure you talk to your pediatrician about any concerns you may have concerning your child. Early detection is the key to helping children develop social and behavioral skills for success later in life. While there is no cure for ASD, but with treatment and time symptoms can improve.

What are some of the symptoms to look for in your child?

  • no babbling or pointing by the age of 1,
  • no single word spoken by age of 16 months or two-word phrases by age of 2,
  • no response to their name,
  • loss of language or social skills that they had developed
  • poor eye contact,
  • no smiling or social responsiveness

What are symptoms that can occur later on in life?

  • impaired ability to initiate or sustain a conversation with others and make friends with peers
  • absence or impaired imaginative and social play
  • stereotyped, repetitive, or unusual use of language
  • restricted patterns of interest that are abnormal in intensity or focus
  • hyper-focused: preoccupation with certain objects or subjects, and inflexible adherence to specific routines or rituals.

Sources: Guide for Parents, Resource Guide, Tips for Parents, Guide for Friends and Family

 

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