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Monday, April 9, 2012

What causes autism? And does it matter?

Well, of course it does matter, but by that, I mean does it matter to children and families already living with autism? It certainly matters to those future children who could potentially be prevented from becoming autistic if we knew what was causing it, but in a lot of ways, it doesn't matter much to Janey, or to me, in terms of our day to day life.

That's not to say I don't wonder, but I can't say I think a huge amount about it. That's been hard lately, as every single day, it seems, there's a new article out there with a new potential cause. They can't all be right, or maybe they can---I do think autism is caused in different ways in different kids, and they might ALL be a cause. But that leaves more answers than questions if it's true---which one caused MY child's autism? And it opens up the feeling that I think probably almost all parents of a child with autism have had---"it's my fault somehow" I know rationally it isn't. I don't take the credit for Janey being so beautiful, or my sons being quite the bright guys, or for William being musical or Freddy being a good actor. I don't take the blame for Freddy's health issues or any character flaws either of them might or might not have. So it stands to reason I shouldn't take the blame for Janey's autism, and in general, I choose not to.

But the list goes on---genetics, vaccines, older fathers, close spacing between children, overweight mothers, medication taken during pregnancy, mercury, thyroid problems during pregnancy, pre-eclampsia, ultrasounds, low birth weight, lack of oxygen at birth, diet, autoimmune disease, viral infections, brain defects, rain, too much TV, Tylenol...well, a huge amount of things. A fair amount of the list applies to Janey, making me think it would probably have been more of a surprise had she NOT been autistic, almost. But of course that's not the way to think, and it shows the problems with a lot of those theories---why don't ALL kids with those risk factor become autistic? Obviously there must be more than one factor at work in most cases.

If I personally had to guess about the cause of Janey's autism, at the current time I'd put three factors in the most likely list. First is the autoimmune disorder idea. Almost everyone on either side of our family has some kind of autoimmune problem. This goes along with factor two--preeclampsia. I was severely affected by this during my first pregnancy, and was to a fair extent while pregnant with Janey. My third thought is the severe reaction I had to a blood pressure medication I was given at 12 weeks while pregnant with Janey. These three factors all tie together. But who knows, really? I think most of autism is probably like that---caused by an interaction of factors. This is why I try never to get into the fray of arguments about what causes autism. I think everyone is right and everyone is wrong. Some cases of autism probably are caused by vaccines. Some are caused by genetics, some by birth injury. Most by a mix and match list of many factors.

But the end result, no matter how you get there, is autism. It's like the stupid Holland story. No matter why you ended up in Holland instead of in whatever country you were aiming for, you're still in Holland. I'm content to let the research and battle over what caused Janey's autism fight on without me joining in. My fight now is to give her the most meaningful life I can.

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