Understanding the link between Genetics and Autism
Men of science have always believed that autism and genetics are closely related. However, a huge increase in autism diagnosis led them to believe that it may have been caused by environmental issues. Recent studies have found the link between genetics and autism. They believe that genetics may be responsible for as many as 90 percent of cases of autism.
What are ‘Genetics’?
Genes are the basic physical and functional units of heredity. Humans have between 20,000 and 25,000 genes, which are mostly identical from one person to another. Only about 1 percent of our DNA defines how one person differs from another. Genes greatly impact our physical and mental status.
Autism and Genetics
It is unclear how autism can be a result of genetics. The combinations of genetic changes that are likely to cause autism are unknown. The result of genetic changes on high or low functioning of autism is also vaguely understood. It isn’t clear if it is possible to change the likelihood of inheriting autism. However, these are some findings of NIH:
- Although ASD can run in families, the inheritance pattern is unknown. Those with genes associated with ASD are at an increased risk of developing the condition.
- Changes in over a 1000 genes have been associated with ASD, however a large number of these associations haven’t been confirmed. Along with environmental risk factors such as parental age, birth complications etc. genetics may determine an individual’s risk of developing autism.
- Studies have shown that around 2500 different genes may be associated with autism.
Environmental factors can also interact with genetics to cause different types of autism. A study done by National Institute of Environmental Health and Sciences found that certain environmental exposures may increase the risk of autism, but they are not known to be the primary cause behind this conditions. Environmental factors include:
- Advanced parental age at the time of conception
- Prenatal exposure to air pollution
- Maternal obesity or diabetes
- Premature birth and low birth weight
- Birth difficulties that may lead to periods of prenatal oxygen deprivation to the baby’s brain
- Prenatal exposure to certain pesticides
- Improper prenatal nutrition
Several studies have found that autism spectrum disorder (ASD) aggregates in families, and studies estimate that genetic factors are responsible for about 90 percent of ASD. If the studies are correct, the vast majority of autism may be inherited. This finding may be important for families with multiple autistic individuals and help them in discovering therapies that are likely to prevent or treat autism. This means that parents can be emotionally free from the impact of their life choices for their child’s disorder and focus on their future development.