Latest Findings Show Autism Starts in the Womb

pregnant bellyThis has got to be one of the most significant discoveries in autism research to date: A new study suggests that autism actually starts in the womb, turning previous theories about autism being triggered by environmental factors during toddlerhood completely upside down. And the evidence is incredibly compelling ...

Scientists who studied the brains of 13 boys between the ages of 2 and 16 found that the brains of boys with autism had 67 percent more brain cells than those of boys without. Not only that, the autistic boys' brains were 17.6 percent heavier than normally developing brains. Apparently the overgrowth happens specifically in the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for the development of emotional, social, and language skills. Too many cells mean the brain can't wire itself correctly, which would explain why autistic children have problems with communication.

Of course this raises even more questions about what causes autism in the first place ...

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Clearly, more research in this vein needs to be done. The challenge lies in the fact that determining how many neurons are in a brain can only be done after a person dies, and there's a very limited number of children's brains available (which is a good thing in general, of course, but not for science). The brains used for this study came from kids who drowned or died in other accidents.

As thrilled as I am that we're one step closer to solving this mystery, part of me feels sorry for all the parents of autistic kids who beat themselves up over vaccinating them as toddlers or doing other things we now know probably have nothing to do with autism at all.

Raising an autistic child is hard enough.

What do you think causes autism?


Image via Bridget Coila/Flickr

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