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Relieving A Mother's Guilt About Autism: The Cause Remains Unknown

Posted Jan 13 2011 2:03am 2 Comments

An off handed comment by a researcher suggesting mothers who don't take good enough care of themselves might to be to blame for their children's autism touched off a firestorm of anger and rightly so. If you were one  troubled by this week's report take heart:  There is no evidence you should ever blame yourself.  Here's what you must know ...

By Colette Bouchez

This week the early release of a study from the February issue of the journal Pediatrics made headlines, with news concerning  new reasons  for  autism – a developmental disorder that can range from mild to severe and is said to effect up to in in every 110 children. 

In the paper, lead author Peter Bearman, PhD, the Jonathan Cole Professor of the Social Sciences at Columbia University in New York City  reported that  one reason behind the disorder could be  having  children too close together. 

Based on records of some 660,000 children born in the state of California between 1992 and 2002  the researchers say second born children conceived within one year of their older siblings were three times as likely to be diagnosed with autism when compared to second children conceived three or more years after their older sibling.

The results, say researchers suggest that  having children close in age could be the link to autism.

When asked for a possible reason, Bearman commented in media reports  that it could be linked  to a mother’s prenatal and even preconception nutrition, suggesting as he did  that possible low levels of nutrients such as folic acid or  iron could be the cause.

“ It could be a biological factor, such as maternal depletion of nutrients  … or another process that hasn’t been described or discovered yet,” Bearman  has said,  igniting somewhat of a firestorm of guilt in mothers everywhere.  But is there any real truth to the idea that prenatal nutrition is at fault?  
Looking To The Past For Answers In The Present

Certainly, past research has shown that a woman’s prenatal and preconception intake of nutrients can play a key role in affecting  baby’s health in myriad ways. Most notable are the mound of studies linking a low prenatal intake of folic acid to a group of devastating birth defects  known collectively as neural tube defects.  In short, when a mother’s intake of folic acid during pregnancy is low her baby’s risk of being born with neural tube defects rises significantly.

And who could forget  the now-famous Dutch study of 1944 – conducted  using records of births recorded during a severe famine in the Netherlands.  Here researchers learned that babies born to mothers who did not support their pregnancy with proper nutrition were more likely to suffer low birth weight – a condition that can go forward to affect the child’s health and development in myriad ways – including an increased risk of coronary heart disease later in life.

Indeed, time and again it has been shown that prenatal nutrition – and more recently, preconception nutrition -  can have an enormous impact on not only the  health of the developing baby, but also on whether or not conception even occurs!

And in this respect, it’s perfectly logical to want to  take that small leap of faith and link the possibility that close births deplete a mother’s nutritional stores in a way that might increase the risk of autism.

 But does it?  

 What We Don't Know About Autism
 First it’s important to realize that nothing in this study looked at a mother’s prenatal nutrition or her levels of folic acid or iron. The study simply made a connection between close births of children and an increased risk of autism – and nothing more. The suggestion that  prenatal nutrition may be a link  was entirely speculative and not shown in this study or any other to be relevant to the findings.


Fred R. Volkmar, MD, the Irving B. Harris Professor and director at the Child Study Center at Yale University in New Haven recently told WebMD , “This is preliminary, and nobody else has seen this yet ...We don’t know if it is true, or if it is true, why would it be true.”


Also important to keep in mind: Three  weeks ago a very solid study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives offered similarly  convincing evidence that autism was linked to freeway traffic – and the pollution that resulted. 


Before that it was studies linking autism to  food preservatives, artificial sweeteners,  too much food coloring  … the list is almost endless.
And let’s not forget the most recent debacle over the now-defamed studies linking autism to the MMR vaccine.


Certainly, this new research could  one day turn out to be  the most exciting advance in the history of autism science.  But the point is that right now, it is just one more in a sea of studies that have  failed to prove anything we can rely on as true.  And in my opinion,  based on what we know thus far, to prematurely suggest to mothers of autistic children they may have been at fault ,  seems a bit irresponsible - and the kind of guilt trip that quite frankly helps no one,  least of all the children.


Worse still may be the  charlatans who may follow  this lead , twisting the facts  to sell you vitamins, or nutritional guidance or even a crate of oranges in hopes of protecting your child from autism.


So  to all the loving and caring parents of autistic children who look deep into their own soul everyday searching for answers:  Do not  blame yourself.  We all pray that the mystery of autism will one day be solved.  But as of today, no one has yet solved it.  

Colette Bouchez is the co-author of Green Fertility: Nature's Secrets For Making Babies - a diet and nutritional guide to pre conception health. The opinions expressed in this blog are strictly her own.

Copyright by Colette BouchezBouchez retains all rights in those elements. The owners and contributors to this blog may or may not financially benefit from the products and services associated with the materials presented herein. The owners and contributors of this blog may or may not benefit directly or indirectly from the products and services featured throughout.

Comments (2)
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This might sound odd, but please consider it for a moment:

Autism is more prevalent where:

a) The mother is eating well having recently given birth, and
b) The mother is eating well, living in silicone valley.

Could the epigenetic trigger for Autism possibly be, I hypothesise:

'The mother never missed a meal and got near perfect prenatal nutrition.'

Has this been checked out?
I pray that you never have a child with Autism - or that someone you love does not have a child with Autism.  Those that do find nothing humorous about it.  Please stop and think before leaving posts that are insensitive to those who are living with a problem every day.
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