Anne’s daughter was less than an hour old when she asked: “Do you think she’s autistic?” Her question didn’t surprise me. A lot of parents ask about autism these days as they face one of their biggest fears. This was Anne’s first baby and I told her what I know to be true: “She looks perfect to me. Odds are she’s a healthy, unique little girl.” Odds are, she won’t be autistic either, but you can’t tell right from the start.
Many parents, like Anne, are terrified that something they did or didn’t do could cause their children to be among the 0.4 to one percent of children who develop autism. Last week a new study in the Archives of General Psychiatry linked autism with antidepressants. Another study of twins revealed that most cases of autism are caused by environmental than genetic conditions, though genetics plays a part. We’ve been told autism is not caused by vaccinations, but might be caused by chemical toxins. A study published this year in the journal Pediatrics says babies born less than a year after their sibling are at greater risk for autism. Those born prematurely or with older parents are too. Then again, maybe they’re not. These studies are not conclusive. They just provide hints and for too many parents, something new to be frightened of. Bottom line: We don’t know what causes autism yet.
If only about one percent of children develop some degree of autism, that means 99 percent don’t. Of that one percent, studies say about two-thirds are high functioning. Autism is a spectrum disorder, which means the variety symptoms and behaviors associated with it range from slight to severe. Their symptoms impact how they experience the world, but may not slow them down. That’s what parents are really scared of: having a child with such severe symptoms that they’ll be disabled. They don’t hear enough about the brilliant children who have autism.
To read more: Autism Anxiety in Pregnancy