Baby, Parenting, Parenting

What Causes Autism In A Child

what causes autism in a child

Whether you are reading this post become you have autism or your child has it, it is important to understand it thoroughly. Understanding what causes autism in a child and its treatments is important especially if you want to live a relatively normal life.

Before thinking about what causes autism in a child, it is great to think of autism as a trait that makes people special. Not to mention, autistic people can feel, love, and understand their surroundings. But, they do this differently from typical children and people. Everyone is unique; this just makes them more unique.

I have been a childcare teacher for two years now and I have come to understand autism more because I deal with autistic children all the time. I understand now that I just need to adjust my teaching strategies to fit their needs and help them reach their utmost potentials.

Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links. I do not recommend anything I didn’t try first. I may earn a small commission at no cost to you. 
This is not medical advice. So, this is just for informational purposes. Please let a professional look into any concerns you have. Do not rely on this post for treatments or diagnosis. Only a professional can diagnose and treat autism.

what causes autism in a child

What is autism?

Before discussing what causes autism in a child, let us understand what is autism. Autism is also known as autism spectrum disorder. It refers to many disabilities that cause communication, behavior, and /or social problems and challenges. Specifically, it is a neurological disorder. This means it will affect how people learn, how they interact with others, and how they communicate. Interestingly, it is derived from the Greek word autos which means alone. Also, it is more common in males than females, and it affects people of all races. 

Moreover, autism is a spectrum. Not every autistic child has the same symptoms. The symptoms can also range from mild to extreme. It begins very early in a child’s life particularly between two years and three years of age regardless of what causes autism. Unfortunately, a child who develops autism must live with it for their entire life. But, the child can be either high functioning and very smart or need a lot of help with learning. 1 out of 54 children in the united states has autism meaning it is very common. But, keep in mind, many autistic people have jobs and are living successfully.

Moreover, an autistic child may not have friends, prefers to play alone, lines up objects, and engages in repetitive play. The symptoms may affect daily life especially if it is severe. They may avoid eye contact, lack judgment when it comes to how dangerous something is, and may not be able to dress themselves.

Usually, children learn certain traits naturally. Autistic children need help learning those traits, and they may think differently. They may have trouble talking and expressing their feelings. Not having enough words is one of the main signs of autism. Sudden movements especially wiggling fingers near eyes are major signs of autism.

Autism and Other Disorders (What Causes Autism In A Child and Other Disorders)

Unfortunately, autism may come along with other problems like eye issues such as exotropia, neurological disorders like epilepsy, and mental issues like severe anxiety and depression. Sometimes, ADHD and autism are confused with one another because they have similar symptoms like no eye contact. But, keep in mind, they are both two different things. Children with ADHD do not have social problems. They are able to interact with other children and adults. These disorders come together because they all revolve around neurological causes.

Furthermore, the majority of children with autism have other physical or mental health conditions, some even have two or more of them. That is because what causes autism in a child can cause other problems. Autistic children can also have ADHD, anxiety disorders, depression, chronic sleep problems, and early childhood obesity. 

Types of Autism

Moreover, this disorder actually includes autistic disorder, childhood disintegrative disorder, pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), and Asperger’s syndrome.

  • Autistic Disorder

The children diagnosed with this have severe symptoms of autism.

  • Asperger’s syndrome

 It is a mild form of autism. They are very intelligent and able to handle their daily life without much support, and they have a much harder time socially.

  • Pervasive developmental disorder, not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS)

Many children whose autism was more than very mild were diagnosed with this.

  • Childhood disintegrative disorder

This is the severest of all of them. It described children who develop normally at first and then quickly lose many social, language, and mental skills, usually between ages 2 and 4. These children most likely would have epilepsy too.

Now professionals are making the diagnosis a bit easier. They placed all the disorders of autism under one category called DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders).

The 5 subcategories of autism under the DSM-5 include: 
  • Does the child have an intellectual impairment or not
  • Does the child have language impairment or not
  • Is the child affected by a genetic or environmental factor
  • Does the child have another mental disorder
  • Does autism come with catatonia

What causes autism in a child?

what causes autism in a child

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“What causes autism in a child” is a very difficult question. Unfortunately, no one knows what causes autism in a child.

Firstly, it is thought to be caused by genetics because it runs in families. Sometimes if a certain group of genes is mutated, a child is at a higher risk of developing autism. But, that does not mean he will have autism.

Secondly, certain environmental factors like pregnancy and labor complications can increase the risk. So, genetics and environmental factors play a role in what causes autism in a child. 

Some environmental factors that play a role in what causes autism include:

  • low birth weight
  • preterm labor
  • complications when in the womb ( meconium in amniotic fluid)

The researchers say there is an autism risk associated with meconium exposure. It can increase the risk of autism by 18 percent.

  • parental age at the time of conception
  • diabetes
  • sibling with autism or an immediate family member with autism

If one child has autism, his identical twin has a 36 to 95 percent chance of having it too. In non-identical twins, if one child has autism, then the other has a 31 percent chance of having it too.

  • genetic conditions like down syndrome or fragile x-syndrome
  • any genetic mutations
  • metabolic imbalances
  • exposure to toxic or environmental metals
  • viral infections
  • exposure to the medications like Depakene or Thalomid

Back then, people use to blame parents for causing autism for bad parenting skills. But, research shows genetics and environmental factors not related to parenting play a role. Also, more and more children are being diagnosed with these disorders. But, we do not know if this is because we are aware of the disorders and are able to diagnose them easier or something is increasing them. It is also important to note that many people believed that vaccines play a role in what causes autism. But, through research, it is proven that vaccinations do not play a role in what causes autism.

How is autism diagnosed? 

Unfortunately, it is very difficult to diagnose autism. because what causes autism in a child . There is no test to determine. Surprisingly, a genetic test would just show if someone is at risk for it. Usually, it can be diagnosed at 2 years old by a professional, but sometimes due to the lack of awareness, autism goes undetected.

Look for these symptoms! If you or your child has them, contact a professional. They will help you.

  • An abnormal obsession over something like a toy or a small number of interests.
  • Lack of verbal or nonverbal communication.
  • Lack of eye contact.
  • No interest in peers or other people.
  • Repetitive behavior.
  • Awkward movements.
  • No knowledge of safety.
  • Meltdowns.
  • Excessive Tantrums.
  • Hard time in transitions.
  • Selective Response.
  • Not listening when his/her name is called.
  • Looking at spinning objects for long periods of time.
  • Repeating words.
  • No imaginary play by 18 months.
  • Keep pacing and spinning.
  • Self-injury.
  • Not understanding other’s emotions.
  • Unawareness of personal space.
  • Only interacts to achieve a desire.
  • Picky eater.
  • Eating things that are not foods.

Surprisingly, the symptoms of autism in girls are different. Usually, it is harder to diagnose girls for stereotypical reasons. Girls are expected to be shy and quiet way more often than boys. So, there are diagnosed later on in life or never.

Here are some symptoms of autism in girls.

  • Has limited interests and only talks about those interests. 
  • Relies on other girls to talk for her. 
  • Has only a few friends.
  • Is showing signs of anxiety and depression. 
  • Quiet and Shy in School
  • Has Epilepsy

If you find these symptoms in yourself or your daughter, it is important to talk to a doctor. 

There are three steps to diagnosing a child.

  • Developmental Monitoring

A family member will keep an eye on the child and decide whether he/she is meeting the milestones for each month.

  • Developmental Screening

If the child is not meeting the milestones, the family will fill out a questionnaire.

  • Comprehensive Developmental Evaluation

A specialist will watch your child and decide whether he or she has autism. Parents will fill out more questionnaires.

The questionnaire the professionals give families goes over risk factors that are believed to part of what causes autism. They will also revolve around symptoms you or your child may be experiencing. 

Normally, someone should assess children many times. Your child’s pediatrician should ask you about milestones at all the well-check appointments.

There are a few more testing usually done including:

Other Screenings and Tests To Decide What Causes Autism

  • DNA testing for genetic diseases
  • Visual and Audio tests to make sure there are no problems with vision and hearing.

If you need more help in determining whether your child has autism or not, answer these 5 questions. If you say no to two of them, then get your child assessed. 

  • Does your child point to the thing he wants?
  • Does he look at you when you call his name?
  • If you ask him to do something, would he understand you?
  • If you talk to him, does he look at you in the eye?
  • Does your child look when you point at something?

Autistic Diet

what causes autism in a child

Autistic children are picky eaters. They may hate textures, smells or just won’t eat anything. But, it is very important for them to eat all the nutrition they need. You may have heard that autistic children love chicken nuggets. This is due to the fact its texture is not weird and it is bland. They tend to love bland food. 

It is believed that there are some foods that may increase their autistic behaviors. The list below is a list of food autistic children should avoid. Most doctors recommend an elimination diet, meaning certain foods should be eliminated from their diets. 

These foods should be eliminated for one whole month. Then add those ingredients one at a time to see how they react to them. 

  • Diary

Diary can cause many problems for autistic children including confusion and hyperactivity. It is inflammatory, and they need to stay away from anything pro-inflammatory because it can cause bowel issues and hyperactivity. A study shows that once dairy was removed from their diets, they began to talk more and were less hyperactive. 

  • Sugars

People with autism don’t have proper glucose tolerance normally like people with diabetes two. It is also very inflammatory. When they reduce sugar, they can concentrate better and have less impulsiveness. 

  • Corn

It is believed that corn is very harmful and may increase the risk for autism. That is because it is grown with a certain very toxic pesticide. 

  • Artificial Foods

You need to be careful what is food in the foods you eat. Most of them have ingredients that are harmful to our bodies and may cause allergic inflammatory effects. Instead, autistic children should eat more whole foods like fish, vegetables, fruits, etc… Drinking enough water is also very important. 

  • Gluten

Gluten has a negative effect on the cerebrum, the lower portion of the brain. It causes inflammation especially in the gut which can cause anxiety and depression. Both of these are seen in autistic people.

You should check to make sure your child has all the nutrition he/she needs. Some vitamins may be given to your child like vitamin A, B6, C, and D,  folate, and magnesium. It is also believed that omega-3 can help reduce autistic behaviors. Usually, autistic children need iron because they are picky eaters. 

Signs Your Child Is Not Autistic 

  • Responds to his/her name by one year old

  • Smiles by 2 months of age

  • Laughs and giggles around 4 to 5 months

  • Uses eye contact and smiles around 6 months

  • By 9 months of age, he or she should share the enjoyment with you when you play peek-a-boo.

  • Makes eye contact with people during infancy

  • Tries to say words you say between 12 and 18 months of age

  • Uses 5 words by 18 months of age

  • Copies your gestures like pointing, clapping, or waving

  • Imaginary play

  • Shakes head “no”

  • Waves bye-bye by 15 months of age

  • Points to show you something interesting or to get your attention by 18 months of age

  • Combines two words by two years old
Some symptoms that are considered symptoms of autism can be totally normal like:
  • Not responding to your call. Many children become very focused when playing and they don’t notice you’re calling them. 
  • Delayed Speech: Many children have delayed speech. Many factors like hearing problems and other environmental issues can cause delays in speech.
  • Playing alone: Playing alone is very normal. I used to play alone all the time. 
  • Lining things up: Some kids are just parking the cars.
Here are some ways to differentiate between a typical child and an autistic child. 
  • A child with typical development will turn his head when he hears his name.
  • An autistic child might not turn to look when name is called.
  • A child with delayed speech skills will point to things and use facial expressions. 
  • An autistic child might imitate others only. 
  • A child with typical development calls his mother to show her something and shares his joy with her.
  • An autistic child might bring her a box of cookies to open but he does not look at his mom’s face but only enjoys the cookies alone.

Can autism be treated?

There is no cure for autism since we do not know what causes autism. But, some treatments can help reduce the symptoms of autism. Early intervention during childhood can make it easier for autistic children to succeed in life and live a relatively normal life. They may still have some symptoms but it would be much worse without the intervention.

There are several types of treatments that treat all types of autism regardless of what causes autism in a child including:

1.) Behavior and Communication Approaches

These are a series of approaches.


This is also known as applied behavior analysis. This technique of therapy is used by many schools and health professionals. It is very effective! A professional tracks the progress of the child. She encourages positive behavior and discourages negative behaviors through different techniques in order to improve the skills of the child. These several techniques include:

  • Discrete Trial Training (DTT)

This is a technique used to encourage right responses by using positive reinforcement and discourage wrong responses by ignoring the wrong answer or response.  

  • Early Intensive Behavioral Intervention (EIBI) 

The therapy is very intensive. It involves 20 to 40 hours per week of training. This is highly effective in children and reduces the amount of support they need in the future. It is usually a one-to-one approach.

  • Verbal Behavior Intervention

The therapy helps children and adults verbally. Instead of teaching just the form of words, this therapy helps demonstrate why we use words, how we use words and how to purposely connect them together to make meaning.

  • Pivotal Response Treatment

This therapy helps the child develop empathy for others and manage his own behavior. This in return would help the child interact better with family members, teachers, and others who interact with him daily. 

  • Early Start Denver Model (ESDM)

This therapy is used for children from ages one to four years old. It uses play as a way to help improve the child’s skills. 

If you are interested in know more about ABA, watch these YouTube videos by clicking on the numbered chapters.

Chapter 1

This teaches you the first strategy of ABA.

Chapter 2

This teaches you the second strategy of ABA

Chapter 3

This teaches you the third strategy of ABA

Speech Therapy

A professional helps your child to speak and use more vocabulary words. But, keep in mind, some autistic children can never do this. So, the therapist teaches them to point and use nonverbal ways to communicate. 

Check out this video, How To Encourage Speech In Children With Autism.

– Occupational Therapy

This therapy teaches children to be independent. It teaches them how to stay clean and bathe. It may also teach them how to put on and take off clothes. How to eat with a spoon and fork and how to go on with their daily life needs can also be taught.

– Assisted Technology 

The therapy helps children used technology to communicate. 


This therapy involves a parent getting down on the floor with the child and interact with him at his level. 

– Social Skills Training

This therapy helps children interact with others and become more social.


Some exercises can help autistic people by alleviating some symptoms. These exercises include swimming, swinging, walking and running on the playground. 

2.) Dietary Approaches

As mentioned before, sometimes certain foods like dairy, corn, and processed foods can have an effect on the child and increase autistic behaviors. Some parents choose to put their child on an elimination diet, a diet that eliminates certain foods, to help their children and decrease the symptoms they experience.

Please talk to a professional before changing your child’s diet. They may need to take certain supplements or vitamins to help with nutrition. 

3.) Medication

Again there is no cure or a certain pill that can cure autism. But, there are certain medications that can help manage the symptoms. If your child is hyperactive, there is a medication that helps decrease his energy and focus more on studies. There is also medication to decrease anxiety and depression. Whether you are okay or not with medication, this can always be an option. 

4.) Complementary and Alternative Medicine

Pediatricians have provided treatments beyond the typical medicines and therapies. Some people use mind-body treatments or certain techniques like chelation, a treatment used to remove metals from the body, to help manage symptoms. But, studies show that chelation may be harmful, so be careful and talk to your doctor or your child’s doctor.

Check out this video, A Life-Changing Therapy!

Click here to see a Busy Board to help autistic children. 

  Can autistic child become normal?

Again, autism has no cure as mentioned above and yes you can manage the symptoms and maybe decrease it. But, little is known on how the child will change in the future with intervention. 

Interestingly, there are times where a child who is correctly diagnosed with autism begins to lose the symptoms as he grows up. Health professionals do not know why this occurs, but they are looking into it. Some believe that they were wrongly diagnosed; wheres others believe something intervened and helped them overcome autism.

But, the most important thing to keep in mind is that early intervention is very important. Children can learn to use eye contact and communicate. The more treatment, the more likely they will live a relatively normal life with less support they first needed. 

What are the strengths and challenges of autism ? 

Strengths of Autism

  • Hyperlexia: The ability to read at a young age. 
  • Memorizing and learning information easily and quickly
  • Thinking and learning in a visual way.
  • Will succeed in careers where socialization is not a major factor like engineering, science, and mathematics. 
  • Having an eye for details
  • Always on time
  • Follow rules easily
  • Liking perfection and order
  • A capability for alternate problem-solving
  • Loyalty

Weaknesses of Autism 

  • Noise Sensitivity
  • Sensory Issues
  • Meltdowns and Tantrums
  • Executive Function Issues
  • Difficulty in focusing on uninteresting things
  • Understanding sarcasm
  • Having trouble expressing feelings
  • Understanding the emotions of other people
  • Physical disability in some autistic people
  • 40 percent will be nonverbal
  • 30 percent will have intellectual disability IQ Below 70
  • Self-Injury Behaviors
  • More than 50 percent will have chronic sleep problems

Planning for a child with Autism

  • Remember what causes autism in a child  is not known, so don’t blame each other.
  • Parents must take into consideration how they will support the future of their child with autism. Can you pay to care for the child? What skills does your child lack? Can he live a semi-independent life, or does he need substantial support? Some government services may pay in part or in full for your child’s adult care, depending on how much money you make. 
  • There are some employments that train the disabled to work.
  • Insurance should cover many of the therapies and technology autistic people need.  
  • Expect to have a lot of trouble raising an autistic child. It is not easy to do. You should ask for help and take me days for self-care. 
  • Educate yourself about ASD. Learn all you can.
  • Get extra help when your child gets older. 
  • Get in touch with other families who have children with ASD. You can help each other.
  • Focus on your child’s strengths.

To learn more about autism, click here.

I hope this was helpful. Leave some tips for other parents of autism in the comments below!

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3 years ago

Such a great informative read! Thank you for all the information.

3 years ago

thank you for researching this with depth and sharing an important topic for all parents here

3 years ago

It is good to know all these different aspects of autism. This is all useful information and helpful to have this knowledge.

Britney Stinnett
Britney Stinnett
3 years ago

I didn’t realize autism could be caused by preterm labor and pregnancy complications!

3 years ago

This is so informative. Thank you for gathering and sharing this information.

3 years ago

This is good to know. I don’t have anyone close to me who has autism but this is something that each one of us should know. Through knowledge, we are better to understand and support them. Thank you for sharing this.

3 years ago

Thank you for sharing all this information. I learned quite a lot

3 years ago

This is a lot of great information about autism. Thank you for sharing.

3 years ago

None of my children have any signs of autism but I still think it is important to lean about because they may play with children who have autism and we can be sensitive to their unique needs.

Ivan M. Jose
3 years ago

This is quite an extensive post about autism. I’ve done quite a lot of research about the topic because my son has a high risk for autism. In fact, throughout my research, I’ve realized that I might have Asperger’s and the topic of autism has become one of my fixations.