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Is Autism Genetic?

With the sharp increase of autism diagnoses in recent years, researchers have sought to find out what the causes of the development disorder are.

It’s become well-known that part of the reason why there has been such a spike in diagnoses of autism spectrum disorder is likely because the diagnosis criteria for the disorder have improved. In addition, more doctors, parents, caregivers and others who interact with children on a daily basis have become more aware of the signs and symptoms, which in turn could be leading to more children being diagnosed with ASD.

While this is likely true, it doesn’t get to the real root causes of autism. One main question that many people have is whether autism is genetic. The quick, but not complete answer, is yes.

However, autism isn’t just genetic, though a child’s DNA has been proven to play a part in increasing the risk of autism.

Below, we discuss the causes of autism and answer is autism genetic.

Table Of Contents

What Causes Autism?

There is no singular cause of autism. That being said, much research has suggested that ASD develops in a person based on a combination of both genetic influences as well as environmental influences. The latter also includes social determinants.

Studies suggest that these two factors contribute to an increase in a person’s risk of developing autism, and also shape what type of ASD a child might develop.

Just because someone is at risk of developing autism does not mean that they will, of course. Some studies, for instance, have shown that changes to genes that are typically associated with ASD are also found in individuals who don’t have autism.

At the same time, not every individual who’s exposed to a known risk factor in the environment will go on to develop ASD. Quite contrarily, most people who are exposed to environmental risk factors won’t develop autism.

Is Autism Genetic?

While it’s long been understood that autism can be genetic, it doesn’t necessarily have to be. Still, a 2023 study conducted by researchers with UCLA Health — and published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences — uncovered new ASD risk genes.

The study analyzed families that have at least two children who have been diagnosed with autism. Through the analysis, researchers discovered that autism is “highly heritable.”

It estimated that at least half of the genetic risk of autism can be predicted by “common genetic variation,” with another %15 to 20% due to “spontaneous mutations or predictable inheritance patterns.”

In its study of 4,551 children from 1,004 different families — each of which had two children who have been diagnosed with ASD — the researchers found there are seven potential genes that increase the risk of one developing autism.

Further, it found that children who inherit mutations that are rare from parents who are unaffected by the gene — i.e., don’t have autism — combined with a polygenic risk are much more likely to develop autism. The researchers concluded that this is the reason why parents who carry one rare gene mutation don’t show any autism signs, even though their children do.

Many other studies have been conducted into the effect that an individual’s DNA has on their risk of developing autism.

One found that between 60% to 90% of the total risk of developing autism comes from a person’s genes. Another concluded that families who have one child with autism are more likely to have another child with autism.

What Environmental Factors Could Cause Autism?

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences says that there are certain influences in a child’s environment that could increase the risk of developing autism.

They include parents being older; a mother’s exposure to certain pesticides or air pollution while she’s pregnant; diabetes, immune system disorders or obesity in pregnant mothers; a birth weight that’s very low or babies who are born very premature; and complications that happen during birth that lead to the baby’s brain being deprived of oxygen.

Blue Gems ABA Can Diagnose and Treat Autism

Whether or not you know that your children are at a genetic or environmental risk of developing autism, if you suspect your child might have ASD, it’s advisable to get them assessed at a young age. That’s because the earlier an official diagnosis can be made, the earlier that treatment can be started.

Blue Gems ABA is one of the most trusted providers of applied behavioral analysis. Known as ABA therapy, it’s proven to be one of the most effective treatments for children with autism.

In addition to having dedicated, experienced and certified ABA therapists on our staff, we have clinical psychologists on staff, too, who conduct comprehensive evaluations to determine whether patients should be diagnosed with ASD.

For more information, please contact Blue Gems ABA today.