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For Your Child

August 2013

Deciphering Autism's Origins

More parents and doctors are on the alert for autism spectrum disorder (ASD )-often simply called autism. They know its symptoms: social problems, communication troubles, and repetitive behavior. This greater awareness may be behind rising rates of ASD, particularly in children ages 6 to 17.

With more children displaying ASD symptoms, scientists are working hard to uncover the causes of the condition. They already know genetics plays a pivotal part. So, too, do other factors. The latest science below helps decipher the origins of ASD.

Photo of two young children at play outdoors

Childhood vaccines

Some parents have expressed concern about a possible link between too many childhood vaccines and autism. Evidence from a recent study in the Journal of Pediatrics should ease such worries. Researchers compared the vaccine records of more than 250 autistic children with a similar group of children who did not have ASD. They found no connection between vaccines and autism. What's more, it didn't matter what kind or how many vaccines a child received.

Air pollution

We're already aware of the perils of air pollution. It can worsen symptoms of asthma and may even promote heart disease. New research suggests it may also contribute to autism. In the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, investigators looked at historical air quality reports. They matched them with the health records of children with and without ASD . Children born in areas with more air pollution were more likely to develop autism. The leading contaminant of risk: diesel. Living close to busy traffic ways may expose pregnant mothers to high levels of the pollutant.

Parental age

Studies from around the world have tied autism with older parents. The latest study to investigate this connection used data from the Caribbean country of Aruba. Scientists analyzed the medical charts of autistic children born over a 13-year period. They then compared them with a similar group of non-autistic children. Children born with older fathers-those in their 30s and 40s-were twice as likely to be diagnosed with ASD. A past study based in California found a similar link with older fathers and mothers.

Folic acid supplements

Doctors encourage mothers-to-be to take folic acid . This type of vitamin B helps protect the baby from serious birth defects -and now possibly even autism . According to a recent study, not enough folic acid in early pregnancy may raise a child's risk for ASD . Researchers tracked the health of more than 85,000 children over an average of six years . They asked the children's mothers about folic acid intake while pregnant . Those who took the recommended amount of folic acid daily-400 micrograms -within the first eight weeks of pregnancy were less likely to have a child with ASD.

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.


Learn more facts about autism with this quiz. 


Online Resources

CDC - Facts About ASDs

National Institute of Mental Health - A Parent's Guide to Autism Spectrum Disorder


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