Environmental Factors in Autism

The role of environmental factors in the development of autism is a crucial area of study. We know that genetics strongly influence the risk for developing autism spectrum disorder (ASD). However, genetics alone do not account for all instances of autism. For good reason, the increasing prevalence of autism has generated great interest in the potential involvement of toxins in our environment. For example, prenatal exposure to the chemicals thalidomide and valproic acid has been linked to increased risk of autism.

Learn More About Avoiding Toxic Exposures During Pregnancy

It's important to understand that the study of environmental risk factors includes much more than exposure to chemicals. Scientists use the term "environmental" to refer to influences other than changes in a gene’s DNA. Autism risk factors, for example, appear to include such influences as parental age at conception, maternal nutrition, infection during pregnancy and prematurity.

Autism Speaks Environmental Factors in Autism Initiative targets research that can advance our understanding of the environmental influences that increase – or decrease – autism risk. None of these influences appears to “cause” or “prevent” autism by themselves. Rather they appear to influence risk in those genetically predisposed to the disorder.

Environmental Research Supported by Autism Speaks
Autism Speaks remains strongly committed to advancing the understanding of both genetic and environmental risk factors for autism. One important area of research concerns how environmental influences interact with genetic susceptibility. Such research is crucial for guiding prevention and improving diagnosis and treatment. 

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Please see these related news stories and blogs by our science staff and affiliated researchers:

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