What Actually Causes Autism?

What causes autism?

Even after decades of research, doctors are not quite sure what causes autism. It seems like certain factors can make women more likely to have a child with autism, but it’s hard to say for sure. For a long time, people believed that immunizations and vaccines are what caused children to become autistic, but recently, people have begun to move away from that theory and focus on other factors, such as pollution.

A new study from Harvard School of Public Health has shown that mothers who are exposed to high levels of pollution could be more likely to have a child with autism. The study went so far as to show that women who lived in high pollution areas across the United States were twice as likely to have children with autism compared to women who lived in areas with less pollution. Particular exposure to diesel particulates, lead, manganese, mercury, methylene chloride, and other similar pollutants are known to affect brain function and to affect the development of babies. The researchers have linked these particular pollutants and their damaging effect on the brain to children born with autism. Other pollutants linked with autism are various types of metal exposure.

How does autism affect a child?

Children born with autism struggle with developing social skills and empathy for other people. Typically, one of the first symptoms of autism is an inability or discomfort in making eye contact. Children with autism don’t always know how to start a conversation or talk with people easily. They generally avoid physical contact, though it’s also just as likely that they will gladly receive affection from relatives and family members quite easily.  Loud smells, sounds, and lights can be stressful and overwhelming for children with autism and they also like to know what’s going to happen. Knowing the schedule or plan of events is very soothing and calming for children with autism and not knowing what’s going to happen is immensely stressful and can make children anxious and act out.

Again, there are many theories about what causes autism. Some have been discarded over the decades, and some still remain and are considered the most likely causes due to the amount of recorded research and consistency. Some theories about what causes autism include parents who are bipolar or schizophrenic, elderly fathers, gene mutations, immune system irregularities, and air pollution.

Having a child be diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder can be a shock to some parents, but it doesn’t mean that your child can’t have a full, happy life. Though people with autism struggle socially and usually learn in different ways, they are often known to have incredibly high IQs and possess a talent for computer science. 

Read More:
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Autistic Brains Never Stop
Girls' Autism Symptoms Are Usually Subtle


  • Andrea L. Roberts, Kristen Lyall, Jaime E. Hart, Francine Laden, Allan C. Just, Jennifer F. Bobb, Karestan C. Koenen, Alberto Ascherio, and Marc G. Weisskopf. Perinatal Air Pollutant Exposures and Autism Spectrum Disorder in the Children of Nurses’ Health Study II Participants. Environmental Health Perspectives, 2013 DOI:10.1289/ehp.1206187
  • Harvard School of Public Health (2013, June 18). Exposure to high pollution levels during pregnancy may increase risk of having child with autism. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 30, 2013.
  • Nordqvist, Christian. "What is autism? what causes autism?." Medical News Today. 1 Sept. 2008. Retrieved 30 June 2013.