General Question

MooCows's avatar

What causes autism in children?

Asked by MooCows (3190points) April 8th, 2016

My friend just found out her 3 year old daughter
has autism. What causes it and can it be cured?
Would changing her diet have any effect on it?
Is it hereditary and which sex has it more?

Observing members: 0 Composing members: 0

26 Answers

SavoirFaire's avatar

Nobody knows what causes autism. We have a lot of clues, and it is an active area of research. But for the moment, the specific cause remains a mystery. We therefore do not know whether or not diet would have any effect (though some hypothesize that it would). Your last question does have an answer, however. Autism is between four and five times more common in boys than girls.

gorillapaws's avatar

@SavoirFaire I’m under the impression that there is pretty strong evidence for a genetic cause of Autism.

Here2_4's avatar

Though autism can be very difficult to deal with, there are people doing really great things to help control those difficulties, enhance learning, and assisting with normalizing life and behavior.
Autism affects various individuals in many different degrees. Some are so borderline it is difficult to even recognize.
I hope your friend has the patience to do the journey with her daughter. No doubt she loves her, but patience is a very important ingredient in living with autism, at any level.
Without knowing your location, I have no idea what help there is available for your friend and her daughter, but she should definitely look into it and check what there is in her area. Depending on what she finds, she may want to consider a move, which would absolutely be worth it if help is hard to come by where she is. Autism is an ongoing thing, for life, but with help, many people have learned to live with it so well their friends are unaware they are even dealing with it.
Professionals can help your friend with all her questions.
There is likely a parents group in her area where she can find support and information.

NerdyKeith's avatar

There is no known cause for autism and it cannot be cured. It is a life long condition. I myself have Aspergers syndrome, which is on the autistic spectrum. I was not diagnosed until I was 30. That was approximately 8–9 months ago (from the posting of this response).

However, I am in an amazing support group and it helps to talk to other Aspergers people of our experiences dealign with our condition. We can be aware of the various social constructs that we don’t relate to and try to work on them. But you don’t grow out of Aspergers or autism.

trolltoll's avatar

not vaccines.

Buttonstc's avatar

As to whether there is a “cure” for autism, it must first be remembered that the word autism itself more accurately reflects an entire range of behaviors from mild to severe known as a spectrum of related disorders.

Everyone immediately thinks of the movie “Rainman” which only depicts the pretty severe end of the scale.
Someone like Temple Grandin who is a professor in Colorado wpuid be at the other end of the scale.

All of this to say that there isn’t one simple cure-all, per se, but numerous types of interventions which have been found helpful. And the sooner the better in terms of outcome.

For your friend I would stongly recommend several books. The first would be “Son, Rise” by Barry Neil Kaufman. If for no other reason that it gives hope. But it also offers specific behavioral techniques that these parents used to bring their son out of his limiting behavioral patterns to a life of normalcy.

Secondly, Temple Gramdin has written several books. If I had an autistic child I would read every single one of them.

But if only choosing one, it would be the one where she advises on educational directions for parents with autistic children. I can’t remember the specific title but will edit it in once I locate it.

Buttonstc's avatar

Too late to edit but here’s the book I referred to:

Developing Talents by Temple Grandin.

But as I said, she has written many books including a collaboration with a male author (also autistic) in which they each describe their personal journeys to functionality

jerv's avatar

@NerdyKeith I suspected as much, but didn’t really care enough to bother asking.

It’s mostly genetic, and last I checked it affected males about 4 times as often as females.

As for cures, there isn’t one… not that I would want to be “cured” if it were possible. You can deal with the symptoms, but that’s about it.

The good news is that many with ASDs can lead decent lives. Temple Grandin has a PhD, John Elder Robison designed guitars for KISS before starting his classic car restoration shop, and Dan Aykroyd is a decent actor.

Autism varies widely in severity and “flavor”. It’s possible that your friend’s daughter will just grow up to be a computer nerd.

@Buttonstc Actually, it can be worse. Autistic people have sensory issues. Myself, I’m sensitive enough to light and sound to be prone to migraines and easily distracted/annoyed by things that are inaudible to most people, but some people literally cannot process the information from their senses. There may be crossover that causes them to literally see sounds and hear colors. I’ve seen a few severely autistic people who won’t even notice you’re in the room, not because they are hyper-focused on something, but because they can’t process the image/sound of a person entering a room… or the room. They are trapped inside their heads. Fortunately, most are not that badly afflicted.

And yes, Dr. Grandin’s works are must-reads, though I would also recommend Look me in the eye by the aforementioned John Elder Robison.

Buttonstc's avatar


While it’s unfortunate that your situation was not diagnosed at a younger age, your assertion that there is no cure would be vigorously disputed by both Raun Kaufman (the son in the book written by Barry Kaufman) and his parents.

The key, in their case was very early intervention (and dedication to it) and it made a world of difference.

Buttonstc's avatar


Yes, you’re correct that it can be worse than Rainman. I just used it as a cultural touchstone for an example with which most people have some familiarity.

Temple Grandin does an excellent job of describing the sensory issues in detail (both her own and others) as well as her unique solution with the “pressure chute” rigging she devised for herself modeled after what worked for calming cattle. A real stroke of genius. She truly has a unique mind.

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

There is some interesting research into gut flora being at least a partial cause or an amplifier of symptoms.

Seek's avatar

It’s my understanding that Asperger’s wasn’t identified as a thing until well after @NerdyKeith and @jerv were past the age autism is usually diagnosed.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@gorillapaws But “genetics” isn’t really an explanation in the absence of any evidence implicating specific sequences of DNA. Furthermore, there is quite a bit of evidence for environmental influences as well (which, if it were epigenetic, could help explain the strong heritability). That’s one of the problems here: a lot of data, but not a lot of conclusions that can be drawn (yet). So while it’s true that genes will probably be a large part of the eventual explanation, the evidence that we have also makes it likely that genes will not be the entirety of that explanation.

zenvelo's avatar

There are a lot of suspected causes, as @gorillapaws mentioned gut flora, also use of certain pesticides and herbicides such as glyphosphate, also, some different strains of wheat that have been introduced in the last thirty years.

Also, the spectrum has been somewhat expanded over the years as professionals have learned to note related symptoms and behaviors.

My best wishes to you on this journey. A boy on the spectrum was in Boy Scouts with my son, and earned his Eagle Scout rank last year. Much is possible with good professionals.

cazzie's avatar

Aspergers has also been taken off the table as an official diagnosis now.

Autism is a spectrum disorder. Today, I just don’t have the heart to answer this question. My son has Autism, his older brother is much more affected. Their father has been diagnosed as an adult as well because he was so poorly functioning as an adult. It doesn’t need curing. They were given scrabble tiles in a world that is designed like a jigsaw puzzle. They need help dealing and understanding things and themselves, but it isn’t a disease.

Early intervention is the key. Therapies are available to help kids learn to cope and understand and the earlier the better. Hiding heads, denying there is an issue or looking for a cure or a diet is a waste of time.

cazzie's avatar

I need to add, there are TWO keys to helping anyone with an ASD. (Autism Spectrum Disorder) 1: Self awareness
2: Behavioural/Cognitive training.

Tell your friend to read and watch Temple Grandin. I read her mother’s book, too. It was very helpful. Support your friend. She is going to need strength. She is going to have to go to battle for her daughter to defend her abilities and to get people to stop discussing ‘disability’. Autism is NOT a disability. It is an ‘other-ability’. OK.. I’m done now. I’m getting upset.

jerv's avatar

@Seek Correct. It didn’t hit the DSM IV until I was out of high school. Then about over a decade later (and after a hitch in the Navy) they figured it out.

Luckily, I attended an enlightened school system that knew something was up, but that it wasn’t ADHD or Dyslexia or anything “normal” like that. Through serendipity and dumb luck did the best thing that could be done though; social adaptive tutoring, not medicating me to the gills on Adderall/Ritalin, accommodating for the fact that I am a visual leaner who can’t learn much from listening. I somehow suspect that had I been born/raised in the South, I would’ve just been labelled “Retarded”, given a paddling, and the schools wouldn’t have even tried to educate me.

@SavoirFaire Not entirely true. However, it isn’t as simple as something like eye color either.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@jerv That article doesn’t contradict anything that I said. What exactly did you think it contradicts?

jerv's avatar

@SavoirFaire ”... the absence of any evidence implicating specific sequences of DNA.”. My understanding is that they’ve implicated (if not pinpointed) a few gene sequences and are just uncertain how they interact with each other or the environment. But I agree with the rest of what you said; it likely is epigenetic but not totally genetic.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@jerv Ah, I see. But that statement was made in the context of my discussion with @gorillapaws, who made a statement in favor of a purely genetic cause. It’s one thing to say “we’ve discovered some gene sequences that are probably part of the explanation” and another to say “we’ve discovered some gene sequences that are the sole and complete cause of autism.” What I was saying, then, is that we do not have any evidence implicating any specific sequences of DNA as the sole and complete cause of autism.

jerv's avatar

@SavoirFaire Okay, I think we’re on the same page.

gorillapaws's avatar

@SavoirFaire You stated the cause was unknown. I stated that I was under the impression there was a lot of evidence the cause was genetic. It may not be 100% conclusive, but I believe there is a lot of evidence for a genetic cause (perhaps not 100% genetic, but still more than “unknown”).

Ultimately this is kind of a silly discussion. I’m pretty sure we’re all on the same page (more or less).

SavoirFaire's avatar

@jerv I think so, too.

@gorillapaws I said that the specific cause was unknown (that is, we don’t have a conclusive answer), but that we have a lot of clues (that is, evidence regarding various factors that will probably be part of the ultimate explanation). You then responded to this characterization of the state of research with a statement that only makes sense if construed as an objection, which would require you to be taking issue with either the claim that we don’t know the specific cause or that we have a lot of clues (these being the only two claims implicated in your response). It would make no sense to interpret you as taking issue with the claim that we don’t have a lot of clues, however, since your response was predicated on the strength of the evidence we do have. Therefore, the only reasonable way to interpret your response was as taking issue with the claim that we don’t know the specific cause.

Furthermore, that there is strong evidence for a genetic factor does not entail that the cause is genetic (particularly given the evidence for epigenetic factors, which would suggest that the cause is a combination of different elements). Thus I would actually deny that there is “pretty strong evidence for a genetic cause of autism.” What there is “pretty strong evidence for” is a genetic component to autism—which is importantly different (for both medical and political reasons).

Stinley's avatar

There is a difference in the condition between males and female. Girls seem to have better social skills than boys and be more motivated to try to conform socially. Diagnosis is therefore less common in females. The fact that your friend’s daughter has been diagnosed at 3 years probably means that she would be fairly severely affected.

I don’t believe there is good evidence that there is anything that can be done to prevent or cure autism. No special diet for pregnant women or babies. From what I have read, there is some evidence of it being genetic but not in every case. Some just arrive spontaneously.

Your friend has a lot of work ahead. But lots of joy to be found in the achievements and overcoming of obstacles. My nephew is autistic with learning difficulties also and he is hard work but he cooks a mean chilli and shows his appreciation for me doing the washing up by giving me a hug. I know I’ve earned that hug.

Fem_Self_Dfns's avatar

ASD (autism spectrum disorder) incorporates a large number of varied/diverse behavioural/psychological characteristics. A few people have mentioned genetic links already, which are thought to be a significant factor. But if it’s any help, i don’t think of it in medical terms, i see the intrinsic value of that individual in their own right. Less normalisation (comparing people exhibiting signs of ASD with ‘normal’ people..) and more understanding will help develop a non-judgmental awareness of what that individual is trying to express and do, and make it more effective when supporting them living their everyday lives and relating to the world around them.

All the best to you, your friend and her little one!

YARNLADY's avatar

The causes of autism are described as being abnormalities in the brain, but what causes the abnormalities is unknown.

The more important question is what is in the best interest of the child? The parents must insist that the medical providers give as much support as is possible.

Answer this question




to answer.

This question is in the General Section. Responses must be helpful and on-topic.

Your answer will be saved while you login or join.

Have a question? Ask Fluther!

What do you know more about?
Knowledge Networking @ Fluther