Decoding Autism Spectrum Disorder

When Does Autism Spectrum Disorder Develop in the Brain?

According to studies, autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has a strong genetic basis and may manifest when combined with certain environmental influences. A study conducted through brain tissue research revealed a few staggering commonalities between most levels of ASD.

Back in 2014, a former student of University of California San Diego, Eric Courchesne, along with his colleagues, analyzed the human brain tissue and found out that during a specific window of prenatal development, autism-associated brain changes are constantly increasing in certain layers of the cerebral cortex.

Get more details about the study here.

Daniel Geschwind, a former student of the University of California, Los Angeles, currently working as a Professor of Neurology and Psychiatry at the David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles, used the human brain tissue in identifying autism-related gene changes and linked them to the changes in vital biochemical pathways.

The study concluded that these brain pathways could:

  • Control immune functions in the brain. For example: controlling inflammation

  • Delegate brain cells to communicate with each other

  • Control and direct the growth and location of brain cells during prenatal development

In addition to Eric Courchesne and Dan Geschwind, there were several other researchers who studied the brain of individuals on the spectrum and identified various regions in the brain that were specifically involved with some of autism’s most disabling symptoms.

What causes Autism Spectrum Disorder?

There is no one cause of autism, as there is no one type of autism. Though there are many theories on what causes ASD, the exact cause is not known yet. However, there are a few factors that could contribute to the growth of ASD. Let’s take a look at some of them.

Genetics: Research has identified more than 100 autism risk genes. In around 15% of cases, a specific genetic cause of a person’s autism can be identified. [Source: Autism Speaks]. Hence, it’s safe to say that genetic factors do play an important role in the etiology of ASD. Few other studies have found that the pervasiveness of autism in siblings of children with ASD is relatively 15 to 30 times higher than the rate in general population.

Combination of genetic and environmental factors: Most cases involve a variable combination of genetic and environmental risk factors that may influence early brain development. Some of the environmental risk factors involve events before and during birth.

  • Advanced parental age of mother and father at the time of conception

  • Maternal illness during pregnancy

  • Extreme prematurity

  • Extremely low birth weight

Note: Although research is not conclusive on the relation of these factors to ASD, each of the factors was identified more frequently in children with ASD compared to their siblings.

How common is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

ASD continues to be almost five times more common among boys (i.e., 1 in 42) than among girls (i.e., 1 in 189). Source: [Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), March 27, 2014]. Studies have been conducted in various continents like Asia, Europe, and North America that report a prevalence rate of approximately 1 percent. ASD affects over 3 million individuals in the U.S. and tens of millions worldwide.

For more information regarding sensory therapy, cognitive skills, behavioral therapy, developmental disorders, and early intervention, please contact Stepping Stones Center. We emphasize acquiring new and appropriate behaviors, while also working on helping the child achieve developmentally age-appropriate milestones through evidence-based practices.

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