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Autism: What Science Says About the Causes

Autism children playing in play ground

In today’s world many people are still skeptical about the cause of autism, which is completely understandable! Until 1980 it was not even included in the DSM. Which meant that people were not being diagnosed until the 1980’s (Volkmar & Reichow, 2013). What was once either an untreated condition or misdiagnosed has spread like wildfire with a prevalence rate of 1 in 59 as of 2014 (Autism Spectrum Disorder, 2018). While boys are 4x more likely than girls to be diagnosed with autism. It is a diagnosis that impacts many families across the world.

False Claims

With such a prevalent diagnosis rate and a lack of answers for the direct cause. There have been many false claims as to what causes autism. This has ranged from vaccines to parenting styles, even though these claims have been proven false through numerous scientific studies. Vaccines have been disproved as a cause by medical practitioners as well as the CDC after they conducted 9 separate studies. All of which did not find a link between the two (Vaccine Safety, 2015). Additionally, parenting techniques have come under fire when it comes to a diagnosis. Some people believe that if a parenting style is ‘too cold’ then a child might have autism. This claim is also false!

So why do people continue to believe pseudeoscience? This may be because science has not found the exact answers yet as to what causes the disorder. Leaving the topic open for people to speculate. Fortunately, science does have some very important answers for us to understanding the condition! From what we know so far about what causes autism is that it is highly genetic, meaning that those with the disorder are born with it! Other scientifically proven causes are neurobiological and early environmental factors (Weis, 2017).

Autism and Genetics

Genetics have been proven to play a large role, as many studies have found that autism runs in families. While the disorder can be heritable, science has not found that one exact gene can cause the issue, but many genes. This means that genes can be mutated, deleted, or copied. This abnormal gene activity can cause different kinds of autism spectrum behaviors, differing from person to person (Weis, 2017). While genetics play an interesting role in the scheme of things, scientists have only been able to explain about 25% of cases through genetics, leaving 75% of cases open for other possible causes.

Other possible causes of autism include but are not limited to: increased paternal/maternal age (epigenetics), diet, health, and early home environments (Weis, 2017). While science has still not found an exact answer it is important for society to be aware of the causes that science has disproven, as well as those that are approved. In the case of identifying the cause of autism, knowledge is key. So let’s help spread the correct information!


Volkmar, F. R., & Reichow, B. (2013). Autism in DSM-5: progress and challenges. Molecular autism, 4(1), 13. doi:10.1186/2040-2392-4-13 Weis, R. (2017). Introduction to abnormal child and adolescent psychology (3rd ed.). Los Angeles, CA: Sage.

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