What are the environmental factors that influence the risk of autism?

Autism is still a widely misunderstood condition. However, research and advances in medical understanding mean that awareness of autism, and the different routes possible to help people to live with it successfully, are evolving all the time.

It is believed that around 1 in 44 children sits on the autism spectrum, with four times as many boys as girls experiencing ASD. Autistic individuals are found across all ethnic, racial and socioeconomic groups and around the world, where it typically manifests itself in children under the age of three.

Autism is characterized by a wide range of signs, including speech abnormalities, social interaction challenges and patterns of behaviour that may be compulsive. These symptoms may be mild, and the child or adult may go on to lead a relatively ‘normal’ life as a high-functioning autistic person. Some of the world’s most successful individuals have autism, which allows them to specialize and focus on certain areas or skills.

However, at the other end of the spectrum, some people with autism may find that their symptoms are devastating and need a wide range of specialist support to allow them to cope. For example, they may be non-verbal and find forms of touch distressing. For this reason, there are various child and adult autism programs available which provide targeted support from specialists on an individual basis, with often very positive effects.

So what causes autism exactly?

Autism is becoming more common and scientists are working hard to understand what causes the condition. The largest risk is still genetic, and the main genetic risks are:

— An member of the immediate family member with autism
— Certain genetic mutations
— A variety of genetic factors, including Fragile X syndrome

However, because autism has no single origin, environmental factors also play a role. Some of these environmental risks for autism include:

  1. Pregnancy

Maternal health is important for a successful pregnancy. Moms who are in poor physical or mental health, or who are malnourished, have an increased risk of autism in their children.

  1. Parental age

Some studies also suggest that the age of the parents has an effect, with parents over the age of 34 presenting a higher risk of a child with autism.

  1. Socioeconomic factors

Parents who lack access to good healthcare, are concerned, worried, and take drugs, have an increased risk of their children developing autism.

  1. Other factors

These include a late delivery of the pregnancy, infection and illness of the baby shortly after birth, smoking and medication and exposure to industrial toxins or chemicals.

How can an adult autism program help?

Thankfully, as the causes of autism are researched and support is becoming more widespread, families can access better services that help their children or relatives with autism to enjoy their most fulfilling lives. Our adult autism program is an excellent example, offering targeted, expert, gentle, and supportive services to adults with autism and their families so that they can meet their goals and receive the support they need. Contact us to find out more about our adult autism program

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