It’s the diagnoses no parent wants to hear: Your child has Autism. Autism, or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a life-changing diagnosis for both the parents and the child, and unfortunately, there is no cure and no sure-fire way to prevent it. Autism researchers continue to study this complicated and confusing disorder in hopes to better understand how it works and what the potential causes are so that potential parents can take the right measures to ensure their child does not develop ASD.
One of the newest studies to come out proves that Autism may have deeper roots than we originally thought: The smoking habits of the maternal grandmother while she was pregnant may put her grandchild at a greater risk for being born with Autism.
What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a serious neurodevelopmental disorder that impairs a child’s ability to function normally in social, occupational, and other settings. It affects their ability to communicate and interact with others and increases the person’s dependency on others, usually for their entire lives. (1)
ASD includes autism, Asperger’s syndrome, childhood disintegrated disorder, and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified. It is called a spectrum because there is a wide range in severity of symptoms and symptoms. (1)
There is currently an increase in the number of children diagnosed with Autism, though it is unclear as to whether there are actually more children developing the disorder, better detection and reporting of ASD, or a combination of both. (1)
Maternal Grandmother’s Smoking During Pregnancy Increases Risk of Grandchild Developing Autism
A study done in the UK has found a possible link that proves the development of autism may be due to factors from decades before the baby was even conceived: Maternal grandmothers who smoked while they were pregnant with the child’s mother are 53% more likely to develop ASD than those whose grandmothers did not smoke. (2) This correlation was even higher for girls: These women’s granddaughters were 67% more likely to have poor social communication skills and the repetitive behaviors associated with ASD. (2)
ASD is associated with and increase in mutation rates of genes. The toxic substances introduced to the body from smoking affect the mitochondrial and nuclear DNA in eggs being produced in an early embryo. This DNA damage is transmitted to the grandchild through their mother’s egg, and may not impact the mother but her children instead. (2)
Currently, the researchers cannot explain the discrepancy between the sex of the child and the impact of the maternal grandmother’s smoking habits, and more research needs to be done to determine the implications of these new findings.
Risks and Causes of Autism
While continued research is being done as to what are potential risk factors and causes of autism are, such as exposure to toxins and poor lifestyle habits, there are a few things we know for sure put your child at greater risk for developing ASD.
Though the exact mechanism is unknown, boys have about a four times greater chance of developing Autism than girls do. (3)
As with most medical conditions and disorders, genetics plays a role in whether or not your child develops ASD. Families who have another child with Autism are at an increased risk for another child also having the disorder. It is also not uncommon for children to be born with Autism if a parent or relative also falls on the spectrum, even on the lightest most end. (3)
Extreme Premature Birth
Babies born before twenty-six weeks of pregnancy are at a higher risk of developmental disorders and ASD. (3)
There may be a connection to babies born to older parents and the development of Autism, however, this is only a potential link and needs to be studied further. (3)
How to Prevent Autism
While there are currently no real ways to prevent Autism, there are measures you can take to ensure that you have a healthy and safe pregnancy.
One year to six months before getting pregnant, both mother and father should take steps to ensure the health of their bodies and therefore the health of their child. (4, 5)Always talk to your doctor before making any major changes to be sure they are right for you. These steps include (4, 5):
Eating a healthy diet of colorful vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats
Removing sugar and processed foods from the diet
Reducing or eliminating alcohol consumption
Supplement with a prenatal vitamin, including or in addition to folic acid, Omega-3 fatty acids, and Vitamin D
Solve any outstanding gut and GI tract disorders (heal a leaky gut, address food sensitivities and allergies, etc.)
Take a probiotic supplement
Decrease exposure to toxins and chemicals: Use only natural and organic cleaning and personal care products
Drink filtered or spring water out of glass or stainless steel bottles
Limit exposure to mercury: Have any mercury-containing dental fillings replaced, avoid high mercury containing fish such as tuna
Re-evaluate current medications with your doctor to ensure they are safe for a growing fetus
While pregnant, it is important to continue to follow the healthy lifestyle routines you established leading up to pregnancy. Eat organic as much as possible, drink plenty of water, rest when you need it, and continue exercising as permitted by your doctor.(4, 5)
Always do full research to make sure that any and all information you read or hear regarding what does or doesn’t cause Autism and other disorders for your baby are scientifically sound and proven. Always talk to your doctor before making decisions as to whether or not you or your child should take any medication or supplement, natural or not.
The Importance of Early Intervention
As previously mentioned, you could do everything right to promote healthy fetal development and your child could still develop ASD. Thankfully, there are options for autism treatment.
Many families turn to behavior and communication therapy, educational therapy, and family therapy when their child has autism. These therapies have been proven to be highly beneficial for the child with ASD and their parents and siblings. (6)
There are no medications to cure ASD, however certain drugs may help with the symptoms of Autism, such as behavioral problems, depression, or hyperactivity. Talk to your doctor about medication options should this be a route you would like to explore with your child.
Alternative Treatments for Autism and ASD
Again, there is no cure for Autism and ASD, however, there are ways to potentially manage the symptoms that can be used in conjunction with conventional therapies or occasionally on their own.
Creative therapies including music and art therapy and sensory-based therapies to help the child tolerate and process sensory information such as touch, balance, and hearing have shown to be beneficial to children with ASD.
Special diets and acupuncture have also been turned to as a support to ASD treatment, however, neither have been proven to work every time and more research is necessary.
Chelation therapy has sometimes been used to remove mercury and other heavy metals from the body, however, this form of treatment is not advised as it is not supported by research, is potentially dangerous, and has been fatal for some children treated this way.
As more research comes out about the connection between maternal grandmother smoking and Autism, and any other information on the causes, treatment, and prevention of ASD, we will keep you informed. For now, if you or someone you know’s child develops ASD, be sure to speak with a health care provider to consider all of your options. Despite limitations, those born with Autism and ASD can be and are productive, happy members of society and live enjoyable and purposeful lives.