As we begin Autism Awareness Month at Encompass, one way we are celebrating is to share information about this diagnosis. As a Speech-Language Pathologist in the Encompass Birth to Three Early Intervention program, I often am asked by parents: “What causes autism?”
The short answer? We don’t know for sure. Research is being conducted on a large scale to help us answer this question. The research thus far suggests that autism is likely linked to both genetic and environmental causes.
We do know that autism is not caused by vaccines. A British surgeon, Andrew Wakefield, published a study in 1998 suggesting a link between the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine and autism. More than a dozen follow-up studies have compared hundreds of thousands of children who have received the MMR vaccine with just as many children who have not received the MMR vaccine. All studies have found no link between vaccines and autism. Wakefield’s paper was completely retracted in March 2004. According to the retraction, “no causal link was established between MMR vaccine and autism as the data were insufficient.”
I look forward to research shedding more light in the coming years on what causes autism. Although we don’t have all the answers yet, the rate of autism is on the rise, with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reporting in 2020 that 1 in 54 children are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. In my daily work, I get the privilege of seeing firsthand how early diagnoses and early intervention can provide meaningful and positive differences in how children function across all areas of their daily living. Whether you have a child with autism or a child without autism, all families need a supportive team of people on their side to help navigate the challenges that come with raising a child