A recent study has left a lot of unanswered questions, but may have unearthed a few clues to the puzzling causes of autism. The study was led by Hjördis Atladottir of Denmark's University of Aarhus, and was published online in Pediatrics. The study looked at children born in Denmark from the years 1993 to 2004 and concluded that a family history of autoimmune diseases such as type 1 diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis might lead to autism. Autoimmune diseases are caused by antibodies mistakenly attacking the body, thinking that they are fighting infectious organisms.
During the study, researchers found that there was an increased risk of autism spectrum disorders in children with a family history of type 1 diabetes, and an increased risk of autism in children whose mothers had rheumatoid arthritis and celiac disease. They believe that the mother’s diseases may create an irregular environment for the fetuses in the womb which leaves them affected by their mother’s antibodies. They also found an increased risk for children exposed to drugs such as cocoaine, valproic or thalidomide while in the womb.
Other studies on autism spectrum disorders have also found a higher risk associated with premature babies, those with father 40 years of age and older, and in children with conditions such as Fragile X syndrome and epilepsy.
While studies are showing an increased risk associated with certain factors, they are still unable to demonstrate that these factors cause autism. More studies must be conducted to find out more about this mystifying disorder.