The causes of autism have long been debated and researched, and we still don’t know what causes its development for certain. Historically, various groups and movements have falsely connected the use of vaccines to the development of autism, while others have argued that developmental psychology has a significant role to play. Neither has any scientific merit or evidence to suggest their validity.
Certain research has suggested that there may well be a genetic element to autism, but this is likely to only be one of many factors. The debate surrounding birth complications and the higher likelihood of neurodiversity development has come to the forefront of scientific thinking in recent years. As such, below we delve into the potential link between birth complications and autism.
What the research suggests so far
The link between pregnancy, birth, and autism is receiving more scientific attention and studies are further building the case that there is some link between autism and the fetal and natal stages.
Studies just last year found further evidence to suggest that premature babies are more likely to have autism, with the chances increasing the shorter the pregnancy term. Although in the big picture, the risks are still low with only just over 2% of those born prematurely being diagnosed with autism.
Research surrounding birth trauma and complications was published in 2017 and this argued that children who experienced difficult or traumatic births were around 10% more likely to develop ASD. Typical complications include asphyxia and preeclampsia, both of which can cause brain damage and impact other organs in the development stage.
Types of birth complications
Complications during birth can vary from issues with the placenta and umbilical cord to asphyxiation and preeclampsia. The latter two are suggested to have the most influence on the chances of autism in children in a variety of studies. Some issues during birth can be unavoidable and not controlled or influenced by doctors, but medical negligence does happen and parents can consider hospital negligence claims if they feel the standard of care was below expected or resulted in long-lasting impacts on their child’s health and development.
Asphyxia occurs when a baby is deprived of oxygen during the birthing process. This can be a result of the mother having low blood pressure, breathing troubles, or issues with the placenta during birth, as well as other factors. Not getting enough oxygen can mean that a baby’s blood flow isn’t sufficient to reach organs and tissues – sometimes creating lasting damage to the brain, heart, lungs, and other organs. The chances of cerebral palsy are closely linked to asphyxiation during the birthing process.
Preeclampsia is hypertension or high blood pressure that can disrupt the fetal period and birthing process. Pre-existing conditions of the mother can cause complications during birth and can result in an unforeseen preterm birth. This in itself can elevate the risks of developmental issues, organ damage, and cerebral palsy.
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I'm Alice and I live with a dizzying assortment of invisible disabilities, including ADHD and fibromyalgia. I write to raise awareness and end the stigma surrounding mental and chronic illnesses of all kinds.
Dr. Wilson graduated from Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science and completed her residency in Internal Medicine at Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital in Barrington, IL. Dr. Wilson specializes in providing culturally competent and trauma-informed care to patients with physical disabilities. In addition to her private practice, she works as a science communicator, teaching health literacy to middle school and high school students in her local school district.