What causes autism? What we know, don’t know and suspect.

autismAndrew Whitehouse, University of Western Australia

One of the great and enduring mysteries of autism is what causes the brain to develop so differently. The behavioural differences of many individuals with autism are so apparent that it seems intuitive that the causes would also be obvious.

But research over the past 70 years has indicated this isn’t so. Into this knowledge gap have come all sorts of weird and wacky ideas about the causes of autism: television, power lines, vaccines and sex position during conception. None have any credence, but have fuelled the mystery surrounding what may cause autism.

In the 1950s and 1960s, there was a widely held belief that autism was caused by parental coldness towards the child. The term “refrigerator mother” was often directed towards the mothers of these children.

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