April is National Autism Awareness month, but as scientists discover more about Autism Spectrum Disorder every day, Autism makes the news on a weekly basis all year round. There is still so much we don't know, but also a lot that we are starting to understand about this condition that impacts between 1 in 40 children in the United States, according to the AAP.
Here are six things parents need to know about recent research on Autism:
1. It's true that grandparents may notice it first
A study published in the journal Autism found that a quarter of parents of kids diagnosed with ASD reported that someone other than mom or dad was the first to suggest their child might think differently. Of those, nearly 60% said it was the child's grandmother who first brought up the possibility of ASD.
It's not that becoming a grandmother makes people automatically great at spotting Autism, but rather that parents who are with their children every single day may not notice things that a close yet not daily observer might.
2. It's not true that Autism is linked to the MMR vaccine
The link between Autism and the MMR vaccine has been thoroughly debunked. In fact, a recent, massive study published this week in the Annals of Internal Medicine found children vaccinated against measles, mumps and rubella are actually 7% less likely to develop autism than children who didn't get vaccinated. The Tdap vaccine is also not linked to ASD.
3. It's true that infection during pregnancy increases ASD risks
While we don't yet know exactly what causes Autism, infections during pregnancy do increase ASD risks, a recent study found. Researchers looked at data from more than 1.8 million kids and found that infections during pregnancy increase the risk of autism by 79% (and increase the risk of depression by 24%).
Researchers expected to see a link between major infections like sepsis, but were surprised to see even minor infections increased risks, but they stress that parents shouldn't panic about a UTI during pregnancy. "This is just one of a myriad of causes that we think increases risk," one of the researchers, Benjamin J. S. al-Haddad told Global News. "This is another piece of trying to understand what the causes of autism are and how we can prevent those causes."
4. It is true that there may be a link to pesticides
A recent study published in the BMJ suggests that prenatal exposure to pesticides within 2000 meters of the mothers home does increase the risk of autism spectrum disorder, as did exposure to pesticides during infancy.
The study's lead author, Ondine von Ehrenstein, told Time the results indicate that babies are vulnerable to certain pesticides both before and after birth. "I would hope that these findings would make some policy makers think about effective public health policy measures to protect populations who may be vulnerable and living in areas that could put them at higher risk," she explains.
5. It is true that some kids may "outgrow" an ASD diagnosis—but it's more complicated than that
A recent study published in the Journal of Child Neurology found that while it is possible for children with an early diagnosis of ASD (and early intervention) to "drop" their diagnosis (basically get to a point where they no longer meet the criteria for an ASD diagnosis) that doesn't mean they are "cured" or won't require further interventions.
"It's certainly encouraging to confirm that a subset of children with early ASD diagnosis accompanied by developmental delays can in essence recover from the disorder and go on to have typical social and cognitive functioning," lead author Dr. Lisa Shulman explains in a media release. "Almost all of them still have to contend with language and learning disabilities and a variety of emotional and behavioral problems."
6. It's true that kids diagnosed with ASD are often diagnosed with other conditions
As Spectrum reports, an ASD diagnosis is often followed by identification of other conditions. A recent study found 1 in 3 people with an ASD diagnosis are also diagnosed conditions like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) within 15 years of their ASD diagnosis.
Bottom line: It seems like every week a new study on Autism hits our news feeds, and the amount of information can be absolutely overwhelming if you have a child living with ASD.
Despite all this research, There is still a lot we don't understand about Autism, but we do know this: Parenting a child with ASD can be hard, but it can also be so rewarding.