With experts still unclear as to the main causes of autism, ongoing research sheds light on some risk factors, but questions still remain. For instance, is it diet? Lack of calcium? Culture? Because autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder, heredity is believed to be the major cause. However, because of the genetic complexity of autism, it is not completely known which genes are the main contributors. Also uncertain is why boys are affected four times more than girls and why premature babies may be at risk.
It is believed that autism is more prevalent in premature babies. Research found that premature babies with a birth weight of three pounds or less are more at risk for autism. Scientists also found a link between autism and diet. Two studies found that milk and foods with gluten could be contributors to autism.
Although numerous studies have found that boys are affected four times more than girls, the reason for the gender differences in autism remain a mystery. However, new research points to heredity and genes. The latest study revealed an autism risk gene, named CACNA1G, which is more common in boys than girls. It is unclear why the gene is more prevalent in boys, but the findings suggest that this gene makes boys more at risk for autism.
There are numerous theories proposed as to the causes of autism. But is there proof? The latest study of the CACNA1G gene offers the most solid yet. It makes claim to a lack of calcium as a contributing factor for autism. That's because the gene is responsible for regulating calcium in and out of cells. An imbalance or lack of calcium results in too much stimulation of the neural connections, which could lead to developmental problems like autism.
Some believe that certain vaccines are risk factors for autism, but there is little proof as to why boys would be more affected by vaccines than girls. As of today, there is no solid scientific evidence to support the vaccines theory, although vaccines continue to be studied. It is possible that culture and the prenatal environment could hold risk factors. But research has yet to find a link between autism and exposure to pesticides, teratogens, folic acid, fetal testosterone or ultrasound.
Others in the autism field question whether certain factors in the environment increase the risk of autism. Lead and mercury poisoning are two areas in question. To date, there is no evidence to support a link between these environmental exposures and autism. However, one study found that although boys and girls are both at risk for autism, environmental influences may protect girls from fully expressing autistic traits. Boys, on the other hand, do not have that increased sensitivity to environmental expectations, such as social competency.
Although experts have yet to find one single cause of autism, existing research tends to support the theory that a multitude of contributing factors that occur simultaneously are behind the brain development disorder.
While the number of children with autism has grown since the 1980s, scientists continue to study the reasons behind the increase. In fact, research will continue to be conducted to uncover the mysteries of this disorder.
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