Can environmental factors cause Autism?
Today, I write this review article to combat a misconception many have about autism-- can it be caused by environmental factors?
If someone is socially isolated, bullied, or is deprived of social interactions for a long time, can they develop autism?
To address this question, I would like to first clarify what autism is: autism is a severe neurodevelopmental disorder and belongs to autism spectrum disorders (ASDs), including autism, Asperger syndrome, Rett syndrome, unidentified pervasive developmental disorders, and childhood disintegrative disorder. (Autism is 4–5 times more common among boys than girls, and we have another review article previously that discusses this).
The most prominent clinical and phenotypic features of autism are extensive disabilities in social and behavioral communications, language impairment or inability to speak, and a strong tendency toward stereotyped and repetitive patterns of behavior.
However, someone who is simply quiet, reserved, less active in social interactions, awkward does not mean that they are autistic or belong to the spectrum. If anything, it is a great disrespect to this neurodevelopmental disorder that people are fighting endlessly to understand if you use the stereotype and social behaviors to categorize people without a clinical diagnosis.
To reiterate, this is BIOLOGICAL. I, and the rest of the AAO, strongly urge people to stop labelling people as autistic because they come off as socially awkward. It is ignorant to think someone would develop Autism if they decide to stay away from people for a while and spend some time alone. We all need days where we want to be alone, and some people are naturally more introverted than others. Lack of socialization does not equal Autism.
Nor does a lack of socialization mean no desire for socialization for those with autism.
Moreover, understanding ASD and understanding what environmental and genetic factors do contribute to the development of ASD are what we thrive to do with AAO.
Lastly, focusing back on the paper I would like to discuss today, I want to highlight that there are environmental effects that increase the risk of developing autism, and they are classified in this paper in terms of prenatal, postnatal, natal and other environmental conditions. The environmental factors are crucial for development in general in the early stages of child development, thus infants and children under the age of 3 years old are most susceptible to extreme environmental impacts that affect their development. I would like to simply reiterate that at an age after crucial developmental stages, such as in your 20s, someone will not develop autism just because they prefer to stay home and not socialize : )
Here's another reference article if people were interested.
But we hope to combat some misconceptions with this article regarding the causation and risk for autism in hopes to raise more awareness for those with a neurodevelopmental disorder and belongs to autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). Please reach out to a member of AAO if you have more questions regarding ASD and check out other sites and posts on our webpage.