Autism - A Sharp look

by Julia Gomez

According to “Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurologically-based disability that affects a child's social skills, communication, and behavior.” Many seem to ignore the various forms of Autism. A different combination of symptoms and characteristics makes up each individual diagnosis as well as the level of severity which varies from person to person. One might think of a child whom can not speak, acts out aggressively due to frustration and anger causing self-harm or harm to others, will never be able to lead normal life, and needs a caregiver to complete the simplest tasks such as getting dressed and brushing their teeth. All though severe forms of autism may seem prevalent, only about 41.7% of Autism Spectrum Disorder is rated by parents as severe or moderate. 

Lorna Wing (1928-2014) coined the title “Autism Spectrum Disorder.” Wing, psychologist from the United Kingdom, set out to work researching Autism after her daughter was diagnosed. From then on, Wing researched Autism and published the books titled Autistic Children: A Guide for Parents and Professionals and The Autistic Spectrumwhich could be found in any home or psychologist’s officeUp until this point, parents didn’t have the resources or funds needed to care for their children or didn’t have readily available information that would teach them to parent an autistic child and cope the reality of their new normalcy which felt anything but normal.

The word “Autism” alone carried around a stigma until the past couple of decades. Before, once a child received that label they’d be ostracized from society by being sent off to a mental institution, most often never leaving and being left there until their adult years and eventual death. Schools didn’t allow children to enroll if the diagnosis was attached to their name, parents even faced accusations and isolation from peers. A veil of ignorance laid on top of a disorder that affects many, about 1% of the world’s population. Today, most developed countries have laws placed, such as the No Child Left Behind Act, which restricts discrimination against children for physical or cognitive disabilities.

So, what causes autism? Scientists and psychologists aren’t sure, however there is substantial amount of evidence stating vaccines do not cause Autism. Autism Speaks states “…scientists have conducted extensive research over the last two decades to determine whether there is any link between childhood vaccinations and autism. The results of this research is clear: Vaccines do not cause autism. The American Academy of Pediatrics has compiled a comprehensive list of this research.

Andrew Wakefield released a paper to The Lancelet suggesting the MMR ( Measles, Mumps, and Rubella) vaccinemay have a link to Autism. Based on a study of only twelve children whom showed signs of autistic behavior and severe intestinal swelling shortly after receiving the MMR vaccine. His paper started a world-wide scare that still affects us to this day. Even Donald Trump, the president of the United States of America, has publicly announced, in debates and tweets, his concerns in regards to vaccines. There is no scientific proof that states vaccines cause autism. In fact, The Lancelet retracted Wakefield’s paper after an investigation showed he distorted the data and made fraudulent claims. His medical license was later revoked. 

Although studies have proven vaccines do NOT cause autism, there are medications that may. One culprit is Valproate, a medicine sometimes taken by mothers with epilepsy. Other likely factors are the older or advanced age of either parent, complications during pregnancy or birth, yet the most likely and studied factor is genetics.

Clara Lajoncherehead of clinical programs at Autism Speaks, wrote about a study conducteon identical and fraternal twins. The largest study of ASD ever conducted (California Autism Twins Study (CATS)) looked at 192 pairs of twins (32x as many participants as Wakefield’s study) affected by ASD. The study included fraternal and identical twins. Studying both types of twins is important. Identical twins share 100% of their DNA, they occur when a single egg is fertilized and that egg splits and forms two zygotes, while fraternal twinsoccur when two different eggs are fertilized by two different sperm cells, are just like any typical set of siblings with the exception of being carried to term at the same time in the same womb.

Studies involving genetics will almost always involve twins. If an outstanding number of identical twins are both diagnosed with the same disorder then a likely cause might be genetics. One may argue that scientist could look at family trees, but a disorder like ASD is fairly new. The first diagnosis only dates back to the 1930s. There wasn’t much known yet about Autism or how to diagnose it. As time passed, more information was gathered, patients were observed, and psychologist began to obtain a better understanding of the disorder. Up until recently there wasn’t much to go by. 

CATS discovered “…when one identical twin develops autism, the chance of the other twin developing the disorder is 70 percent. More surprisingly, it documented a whopping 35 percent overlap among fraternal twins.” The 35% chance of both fraternal twins being affected by ASD compared to the 3-14% chance of different aged siblings being affected by it leads researchers believe that, along with genetics, environmental factors taking place in the womb or during birth may influence the risk of a child developing autism. Though research and a change in mindset has propelled the field of Psychology towards an answer, foundations and research centers are on going in their efforts to determine the root cause of a disorder that boggles the minds of many scientists.


Printed Sources:

John Donvan, A. A. Caren Zucker, B.B. (2016). In a Different Key: The Story of Autism. New York, USA: Crown Publisher

Virtual Sources:!get-to-know-us

Copyright IanTrottier