Autism spectrum disorder is an umbrella term referring to a group of developmental disabilities resulting from differences in the brain. This medical condition impacts one’s growth and mental development impairing behavioral patterns, communication, interactions and other cognitive abilities such as learning. The severity of the disorder varies between individuals; hence the extent of impairment in functioning varies across the spectrum of autism. Some people with ASD demonstrate advanced communication skills and can have reasonably regular interactions. Some only have a few differences setting them apart from other people. Other individuals with ASD, on the other hand, are highly impaired functionally (Bolte et al., 2019). While the disorder’s aetiology is not fully understood, some of the most common factors predisposing an individual to the risk of autism are genetic and environmental factors and congenital disabilities and birth complications (Bolte et al., 2019). Factors such as having older parents, having a close relative such as a sibling who has autism or being born with another genetic disorder such as Down’s syndrome predispose a person considerably to getting ASD.
Studies show that the odds of a child developing a brain condition are significantly higher if they come from a family with a history of the same condition. The likelihood of autism spectrum disorder is increased if a closely related family member has been diagnosed with the same disease. For instance, if a sibling has ASD, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or any other intellectual disability or if a parent has bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety or depression, the child’s chances of developing autism increase. Some studies also consider other family members such as aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents (Bolte et al., 2019). Unequivocally, hereditary is a critical factor in determining the development of autism among people.
Family history is a significant factor in the diagnosis of most medical conditions, and this is also demonstrated in the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorders. While some scientists base their studies on heredity, others believe the disease is predominantly the result of the genetic or mutational change. They consider factors such as being born to older parents or certain practices during pregnancy the cause of ASD. The mother’s health condition during pregnancy has also been investigated as a potential predisposition factor. Children born to mothers who are obese, diabetic or have immune system disorders are at increased risk of having autism (Grove et al., 2019). A combination of hereditary, genetic, pathological or environmental factors would have to be present in order to place a child at significant risk of developing the condition.
Analysis and Discussion
Genetics and Environment as Diversity Lenses
Genetics and environmental factors play a significant role in predisposing a child to the risk of developing autism. According to a study conducted by Brian Lee, a professor of epidemiology and biostatistics, getting autism spectrum disorder is 4.7 times higher for a child whose parent or sibling has any intellectual disability or brain disorder other than autism (Grove et al., 2019). The chances are even higher for children whose parent or sibling has autism and another mental disability such as schizophrenia or depression, with the odds increasing to 7.6 times (Grove et al., 2019). This study shows that genetic predisposition to one neurologic or psychiatric disorder is a significant cause of predisposition to yet another condition.
A parent conceiving at an advanced age also puts the child at risk of ASD. The observation is exceptionally accurate of advanced paternal age, where adverse birth outcomes such as defects, seizures and low birth weight have been linked to children born to older fathers. Studies show that the offspring of men 40 years and older are 5.75 times more likely to have autism or other neurodevelopmental disorders compared to those of fathers that are under the age of 35 while controlling for other factors such as the age of the mother and socioeconomic status (Hodges et al., 2020). Therefore, advanced paternal age is also a significant risk factor in relation to genetics.
Babies born prematurely are at high risk of having neurodevelopmental defects hence a higher likelihood of developing autism or other intellectual disabilities and brain disorders. The observation is also accurate for children born at full term but with very low birth weight. Birth complications such as prolonged labor and oxygen deprivation may damage the baby’s brain, putting them at higher risk of ASD (Sharma et al., 2018). Environmental factors associated with autism include exposure of the mother to pesticides or other pollutants during pregnancy. The prenatal use of medications such as thalidomide which is considered a significant teratogen may also contribute to the development of autism spectrum disorder in a baby.
Combining two or more of these factors is more likely to result in autism than exposure or predisposition to just one factor. One of the most significant factors is genetic predisposition to the disease. For instance, if a man has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and anxiety and is of advanced age, their offspring faces a substantial risk of having a neurologic or psychiatric disorder (Hodges et al., 2020). That applies to a mother who has been exposed to a teratogen, is diabetic, and has another child or parent with autism or another brain disorder. Other factors, such as environmental agents, only increase the risk of developing the disability.
There is a considerable controversy concerning the support and management of people living with autism versus the treatment and prevention of the disorder. While it is essential to focus on supportive interventions for dealing with autistic people, it is also crucial to analyze ways in which genetic, hereditary, and environmental factors can be explored for the treatment (Haruvi-Lamdan et al., 2020). Additionally, they can be explored for prevention of cases of autism spectrum disorders. This innovation may provide unique and new insight into the management and care of people with ASD.
Close prenatal monitoring of mothers to ensure they are not exposed to teratogens and conducting tests such as amniocentesis can help prevent and detect neurodevelopmental disorders. These early interventions may not reduce the risk of developing autism or other brain disorders. Still, they may be efficient in significantly controlling factors that increase the chances of their development (Haruvi-Lamdan et al., 2020). Generally, preventing birth complications that would lead to oxygen deprivation, or premature birth may reduce the chances of developing neurologic or psychiatric defects among the autism spectrum disorder.
Autism is a developmental disorder that significantly affects the social and cognitive function of an individual, including their interactions with other people, their ability to communicate verbally and non-verbally and to learn, and their autonomy and ability to function on their own as an individual. While the treatment options are limited to the management of symptoms and coming up with ways to cope with daily operational challenges, a keen look at the factors that predispose the person to the risk of autism before birth, especially genetics, may provide a new perspective to the treatment, therapy and possible prevention of ASD.
Bölte, S., Girdler, S., & Marschik, P. B. (2019). The contribution of environmental exposure to the etiology of autism spectrum disorder. Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences, 76(7), 1275-1297.
Grove, J., Ripke, S., Als, T. D., Mattheisen, M., Walters, R. K., Won, H.,… & Børglum, A. D. (2019). Identification of common genetic risk variants for autism spectrum disorder. Nature genetics, 51(3), 431-444.
Haruvi-Lamdan, N., Horesh, D., Zohar, S., Kraus, M., & Golan, O. (2020). Autism spectrum disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: An unexplored co-occurrence of conditions. Autism, 24(4), 884-898.
Hodges, H., Fealko, C., & Soares, N. (2020). Autism spectrum disorder: definition, epidemiology, causes, and clinical evaluation. Translational paediatrics, 9(Suppl 1), S55.
Sharma, S. R., Gonda, X., & Tarazi, F. I. (2018). Autism spectrum disorder: classification, diagnosis and therapy. Pharmacology & therapeutics, 190, 91-104.