A Cause on the Horizon? By Sharon Kirkland, LMSW

There are many

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) has been a hot button topic recently and with good cause.  The numbers of children diagnosed with the disorder have increased quite rapidly and it is now one of the fastest growing developmental disabilities.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates one in eighty-eight children are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.  The numbers of children diagnosed with ASD began to explode in children born between 1987 and 1988 in the United States and a few other western countries.  There has been much research about the disorder however there is no identified single cause of Autism.  The investigation into this epidemic condition continues and it seems that the public is constantly inundated with information about possible links to causes for ASD.

There have been many ideas about the origins of the disorder.  In its infancy, ASD was thought by many to be caused by poor parenting.  Other theories have included aabnormalities in the brain, infections and environmental toxins including vaccines.  A number of the early assumptions, such as poor parenting, have been discredited.  In the case of vaccines as a cause of ASD, science and the media have pronounced numerous times that there is no connection between the two.  A recent study found the Autism Spectrum Disorder may be associated with induced and augmented labor.  The study did not identify a cause and effect relationship between augmented labor and ASD; however researchers feel that the link discovered warrants further study.  The most current assumption is that in all children with Autism Spectrum Disorder there is some brain damage, although it may be very subtle in some cases.

I am thrilled that the research into ASD continues and hopeful that a definitive cause can someday be identified.  However, I take issue with the fact that researchers publish information about possible links to ASD without any concrete evidence, in my opinion, much too frequently.  While I understand the desire and responsibility to keep the public informed, it seems to me that the release of this information premature and not as helpful as intended.  The fairly regular announcements almost appear to cause a sense of panic and rush among the public to make lifestyle changes to prevent or lower the chances of an ASD diagnosis even though there is no definitive proof of a causal relationship.  The possible link between gluten and ASD comes to mind.  There has been a huge movement for gluten free diets in recent years, not only among those who have a disease affected by the substance but also by those who feel that the connection between gluten and ASD is very real.  It is true that the public should look objectively at research and can do what they wish with the information shared via ongoing study.  However I feel that it would be much more beneficial to share information related to conclusive links.   Others may disagree with my view.  Would you prefer to hear about each potential link or those absolutely linked to Autism Spectrum Disorder?


 Sharon Kirkland, LMSW

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