Scientists once regarded autism as a psychological disorder caused by traumatic experiences that forced a child to retreat into a world of fantasy. Some theorized that parents caused autism by unconsciously rejecting a child, or by failing to bond emotionally. These theories caused enormous guilt in parents and lacked any scientific validity. Scientists today still do not know what causes autism, but they have discredited and rejected theories about a parental cause.

Evidence indicates that autism results from biological abnormalities in brain structure and function. Studies have found that autistic people have abnormally low blood flow to certain parts of the brain and reduced numbers of certain brain cells. These studies suggest that mutations in genes are important in causing autism. Studies of families also support this possibility. For example, families with one autistic child are more likely to have a second autistic child. Other studies have linked some cases of autism with prenatal exposure to the rubella virus (see German Measles) and lack of oxygen during birth.

Another theory sees autism mainly as a problem of cognition. In this view, autism results from an inability to think in ways necessary for normal communication, sharing of experiences, and expression of emotions. Supporters argue that autistic people lack “a theory of the mind”—that is, they do not realize that other people have feelings, beliefs, needs, and an inner life. Without this conception of the minds of others, autistic people cannot predict or interpret the behavior of others and have severe problems in social interaction. Many experts criticize this theory, noting that autism appears at an early age when no children have a conception of the minds of others.




Contributed By:
Michael Woods

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