Everything you need to know about the causes of autism

Autism Spectrum Disorder is a group of developmental disabilities that affects one’s social, communication and behavioural skills. This developmental disorder was extensively studied and researched by two clinician-scientists - Leo Kanner and Johann ‘Hans’ Friedrich Karl Asperger. Their studies inferred that autism is a lifelong developmental disorder, noticed during infancy and toddler years. Symptoms were found in their language, communication, learning, thinking, problem-solving, social interaction, stereotypy and other behavioural patterns and skills.


The global prevalence of ASD is about 1.5 per 1000, with statistics showing a 600% increase in the last two decades. Moreover, it is estimated that there are around two million autistic children in India. This goes on to prove that irrespective of being from an influential family with access to great healthcare or from a family of modest income, ASD does not affect a person depending on their economic background, ethnicity or race.

Causes of Autism:

While the management of ASD remains an enigma, therapy is the mainstay of management. Autism has different effects on different people. It is, after all, a spectrum that has many diagnosed under different variations. Different research studies continue to throw more light on this condition with most pointing to some abnormality in the brain structure and function.

According to Vivek Misra, Clinical Neuroscientist, Autism emerges from a developmental cascade in which a fundamental deficit in attention to social stimuli begins as early as infancy. This leads to impaired interactions with primary caregivers and results in abnormal development of social cognition, which in turn adversely affects later behavioural and functional domains such as language development which are dependent on these early processes.

In other words, a normal child undergoes various stages, with each stage being more intense and bigger than the other. In the case of an autistic child, the first observation happens when they do not respond to a social stimuli – something which a normal child would. This social stimuli could be anything, right from receiving a hug from the mother to being given a chocolate by the father. This reaction points to a nerve network that isn’t developed which leads to the other stages in the child’s development getting affected. This thereby affects understanding, language skills, and behavior.

Once diagnosed with Autism, the child will require therapy, a special school, and other modifications to impact the neural network for better changes. We at Buddhi Clinic believe that the diagnosis and appropriate therapy and medication should happen at the earliest.

Here’s a look at the causes that a plethora of researches show:

  • Passed on from parent to child
  • Through genetic disorders or mutations
  • The child being born to older parents
  • Through certain metabolic imbalances
  • Foetal exposure to serious toxins and heavy metals
  • Foetal exposure to medications that are high in Valproic acid or Thalidomide.

Here’s a look at these causes in detail:


Genetic disorders could cause autism. No one single gene is responsible for autism. A number of studies show that several genes could be involved in creating this condition. Genetic disorders could be inherited or occur after birth. However, this is still a relatively grey area of research. It has been found that Asperger’s Syndrome is the mildest form of ASD often found in children who were born with Tuberous Sclerosis or Fragile X syndrome - genetic conditions wherein the former affects the brain with tumours and the latter hampers the body from making enough protein.

Other environmental factors

There are other factors which could trigger autism such as oxygen deprivation to the child’s brain, stress during pregnancy, emotional imbalances in the mother, pregnancy in middle-age, excess alcohol and drugs taken during pregnancy, as well as a deficiency in the intake of folic acid during pregnancy. It is also believed that autism affects boys four times more than girls, further showcasing that 1 in 37 boys may be diagnosed with this condition.

Other disorders

It is highly likely that children with other medical conditions can develop autism. A child with serious medical conditions is susceptible to displaying autism or autism-related symptoms. For instance, a child with Fragile X syndrome would have delayed development of speech and language, two symptoms closely related to autism.

Children and youngsters with autism suffer from a variety of challenges such as:

Communication skills

Individuals with ASD have problems communicating with other people. They suffer from speech impairment and are not able to express themselves. In some rare cases, kids with this disorder cannot speak at all. Generally, autistic children tend to talk a lot about what they like rather than have a normal conversation with their peers. They often repeat themselves and don’t understand jokes or sarcastic comments.

Social challenges

Individuals with this condition make little to no eye contact with other people. They lack awareness, especially when it comes to understanding certain facial expressions and body languages. Autistic children show no signs of being interested in or making friends with other kids.

Behaviour challenges

Kids with this disorder have a number of a variety of behavioural problems, often treated using behaviour modification techniques. Children with ASD tend to get upset frequently if things don’t go their way. They repeat the same activity over and over again. They are extremely particular about how things feel, taste and smell. They are capable of harming themselves by their behaviour – banging heads against the wall or biting themselves. Autistic individuals find it difficult to follow an object visually, but can often get fixated on an activity or object. They have specific food preferences and may refuse certain foods for no particular reason whatsoever.

It is crucial to ensure a child receives all the help and care when diagnosed with autism. With proper diagnosis and supportive therapy, an autistic child can eventually lead a life that is as near to normal as possible. When diagnosis and consequently treatment is delayed, the child often needs to struggle harder to adapt to the condition and ease into mainstream society. Social mindsets and the stigma attached to autism often make life more difficult for autistic individuals and their parents. Head out to Buddhi clinic and explore our integrative care program for the brain and mind!

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    s v kRISHNAN


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