This week, the blog The Thinking Mom’s Revolution published an excellent entry entitled “How I Gave My Son Autism” in which a mother examines possible causes of autism that may have contributed to her son’s autism. [To read this blog entry, click here.] With specific references to autism research, she explains how exposing her son unknowingly to various things deemed safe, including Tylenol and sonograms during pregnancy, potentially made him susceptible to autism. Many of the possible culprits were based upon the recommendations of doctors, such as Pitocin and a Caesarian section during delivery; she was simply doing what medical professionals advised. Sadly, she still feels many of her actions are “unforgivable” because of the effects they have had upon her son.
Like her, I have often wondered what, if anything, I did to contribute to Alex having autism. I have always been a seemingly healthy person who lived a very healthy lifestyle. Nonetheless, my pregnancy with Alex was designated high-risk when I was diagnosed with the autoimmune blood platelet disorder idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura, which made me susceptible to bleeding. To treat my condition, I had to take the corticosteroid medication Prednisone and intravenous gamma immune while several sonograms monitored his development. When I went into labor almost a month early, he was delivered by Caesarian section. Certainly, I have wondered if any of those circumstances led to Alex developing autism, but I was simply following the direction of doctors whom I trusted. Moreover, those treatments probably saved Alex’s life and mine. I can’t feel guilt for that.
Perhaps looking for better answers and certainly seeking ways to help Alex, I constantly research autism. As I study the research, I often discover that many of the proposed causes could not be responsible for Alex having autism. In other words, my actions should have prevented giving him autism. For instance, this month, the media reported a new possible cause of autism: low folic acid. [To read the article “Can Folic Acid Reduce the Risk of Autism?” click here.] Because I knew that taking folic acid prior to and during pregnancy prevented neural tube disorders in babies, I faithfully took folic acid supplements before and during pregnancy. By being proactive in that respect, I can feel confident I did the right thing for Alex.
According to another article published this month entitled “Fact Box: 5 Areas of Research into Environmental Causes of Autism” [To read this article, click here.], potential causes of autism include the following: nutrition, mother’s immune system, traffic pollution, chemicals, and medication. To address those issues, I can honestly say that I ate properly and took supplements when I was pregnant, I trusted my doctors who treated my immune system issues, I live in a town with minimal traffic pollution, I avoid chemicals as best I can, and I’ve never taken the anti-depressants specifically cited as problematic. Once again, I can’t take blame based upon these causes.
A third research article that appeared this month also seems to suggest possible causes of autism that do not account for Alex having autism. The article “Autism Causes and Risks, Latest Findings” [To read this article, click here.] proposes various risk factors for autism, including taking anti-depressant and anti-seizure medications during pregnancy, which I have never taken. The research also suggests older mothers and close births as potentially problematic. I was 29 when I gave birth to Alex, putting me under the older than 35 definition of “older mothers.” Also, since Alex is my only child, the close births theory of having two pregnancies spaced a year apart doesn’t fit our situation, either. Another risk factor, genetics and gene mutations, is a possibility, but not one over which I had any control. Two other risk factors could have affected Alex—fever and prenatal inflammation—as I had flu and ran a fever when I was pregnant. However, I did treat the fever with over the counter medication, which, according to the research, should have helped. Moreover, I would think many pregnant women would run a fever at some point; I question how much this might contribute to autism.
Despite the various research about potential causes of autism, nothing has arisen to name definitively the true cause and what might be done to prevent or cure the epidemic. While I empathize with the mom who wrote “What I Did to Cause My Son’s Autism,” I choose to focus on all the things I did not do to cause my son’s autism. Everything I did during my pregnancy and since Alex’s birth has been focused upon keeping him and me healthy, and everything we have done since his diagnosis of autism was to make him better so that he can reach his full potential. Like all parents, we have probably made unintentional mistakes along the way, but anything we did for Alex was out of unconditional love for him. When any feelings of guilt arise, I must remember that we have always tried to do what we thought was best. Furthermore, we keep praying for Alex’s complete healing so that he can enjoy life to the fullest and “so the power of God could be seen in him.”
“As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. ‘Rabbi,’ his disciples asked him, ‘why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?’
‘It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,’ Jesus answered. ‘This happened so the power of God could be seen in him.’” John 9:1-3