New study says autism starts during pregnancy

New statistics from the Centers for Disease Control show one out of every 68 children has autism, more children than ever before—a trend Dr. Jeanette Ramer has seen with her own eyes.

“That undoubtedly is true because I've been in practice quite a few years, and when I started in developmental practice, it was quoted as one in 10,000. It was uncommon to see a child with autism. Clearly over the years it's become more and more common,” Ramer said.

Ramer also said part of the reason autism numbers are on the rise is because of increased awareness which can result in over-diagnosis.

The question remains, what causes the disorder? A new study sheds some light.

A report out this week in the New England Journal of Medicine says there is evidence that autism begins during pregnancy. The study was done by researchers at the University of California San Diego.

They studied the brains of children who had autism and found patches of abnormal cells deep inside. Researchers said that is something that can only happen during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy.

Ramer said the study proves what many have suspected.

“It really is a neurological disorder, not a behavioral disorder created by families by parenting. Therefore I think this is important in that sense that it does reinforce that idea that it's an inborn difference,” said Ramer.

Researchers said they need to do some more digging to find out why those cells are irregular. Ramer believes it is a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

“There may be children who have several sets of genes that add risk and that they're exposed to something prenatally or something occurs prenatally that then turns on autism,” Ramer said.

She gave an example of a scenario like that. Ramer said if a mother gets a virus during pregnancy and has a baby with a genetic predisposition to autism, the combination could create those abnormal brain cells.

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