There are more children than ever being diagnosed with autism today. However, while this condition is common, there are still a lot of questions surrounding autism spectrum disorder (ASD), including whether or not autism is genetic.
Here’s what to know about this neurodevelopmental condition and what may or may not cause it.
What is Autism?
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or autism, is a neurodevelopmental condition that impacts how a person learns, communicates and interacts with others. Autism is truly a spectrum and different individuals may be impacted by this condition differently.
The term actually refers to a broad range of conditions all characterized by challenges with repetitive behaviors, social skills, speech and nonverbal communication patterns. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), in the United States today, 1 in 44 children are impacted by autism spectrum disorder.
There isn’t one type of autism, but many types and subtypes. Because of the variability of autism, individuals with this disorder are each going to have different sets of strengths and challenges. The way that individuals with autism learn and problem-solve can vary greatly depending on the individual. People with ASD can range from highly skilled to severely challenged. Some individuals with autism do not need any intervention to live their everyday lives, while others may need significant support in their day-to-day lives.
Why Are Some of the Indicators of Autism in a Child?
Since autism can impact different children differently, it isn’t always so cut and dry when determining whether or not a child has ASD. This is billed as a “developmental disorder” because some symptoms generally appear in the first two years of life, and typically by age three at the latest. Some developmental delays associated with autism may appear as early as 18 months, but there are some children on the spectrum whose symptoms don’t fully materialize until they are in a classroom setting.
Here are some of the most notable indicators of autism in a child.
- Loss of communication skills
- Language development delays
- Repetitive actions including flapping arms and spinning
- Avoiding affection
- Lack of eye contact
- No or limited facial expressions
- Intense reaction to sound, smell, taste or light
- Preference to play alone instead of with others
- Inability to function in school or other areas of life
- Difficulty interacting with others
- Unusual eating and sleeping habits
- Anxiety, stress or excessive worry
- Unusual mood or emotional responses
- Having lasting, intense interest in specific topics or facts
- Being overly focused on certain interests
- Repeating words or phrases
- Being more sensitive or less sensitive to sensory inputs like sound, clothing or temperatures
Parents who notice signs and signals like this, should take their child to a specialist for more information and a formal diagnosis. The diagnosis process includes feedback from caregivers, medical examinations, assessments and observations and may also include blood tests or hearing tests as well.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all children receive some type of formal screening for autism. Research shows that early intervention is one of the best ways to have a better positive outcome later on in life for people living with autism.
Is Autism Genetic?
There are a lot of questions surrounding autism and why certain individuals are diagnosed with this condition. One of the biggest questions parents tend to have is, “Is autism genetic?”
Due to autism’s complex nature and the myriad of symptoms surrounding this disorder, it is likely that ASD has many different causes and that it isn’t just genetic. Researchers have determined that both genetics and environment likely play a role in autism.
However, keep in mind that geneticists believe that there are several different genes involved in autism spectrum disorder. In fact, they believe that up to 80% of the risk of developing autism all comes down to genetic factors.
The risk from gene mutations, in addition to environmental risk factors come together to determine the likelihood of a child developing ASD. So, in addition to paying attention to genetics, it’s also important to look at some of the increased risks that may impact a child’s likelihood to develop autism.
Increased Risks That Your Child Will Have Autism
There has been a lot of research on autism and what may cause this developmental disorder. While there is still a lot to learn, medical professionals have made great strides in better understanding autism. Experts have come to find there are several risks that a child will have autism, including the following:
- Premature birth before 26 weeks
- Advanced age of either parent
- Low birth weight
- Disorders such as fragile X syndrome or Rett syndrome
- Genetic conditions such as down syndrome
- Siblings with ASD
- Pregnancies spaced less than one year apart
- Heavy metal and environmental toxin exposure
- Poor nutrition during pregnancy
- Lack of folic acid during pregnancy
- Diabetes, obesity or preeclampsia during pregnancy
- Family history of autism
These risk factors can make it more likely for a baby to eventually develop ASD, although these are not necessarily absolutes. Since a lot of these factors have to do with pregnancy, many women want to know if they can detect autism during their pregnancy.
Can Autism Be Detected During Pregnancy?
Since no single cause for autism has yet to be determined, it can be very difficult to screen for autism spectrum disorder when a woman is pregnant. Of course, by keeping the aforementioned factors in mind, women can do their best to stay as healthy as possible during their pregnancy and be aware of different risk factors for autism, so that they can get a proper diagnosis, should they see some of the signs and signals of autism when their child gets older.
While experts still have a lot of questions surrounding autism and genetics, the good news is, there have been many advancements in different therapies that can be used for kids and adults like those who struggle with ASD.
If you are ready to work with the best ABA therapy provider in New York, New Jersey or Indiana, give us a call at (732) 402-0297. Our dedicated team is ready to help and we will treat you like family.
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