Can Autism Be Prevented?

Although the exact cause of autism is not known in most instances, some cases are linked to chemical exposure during pregnancy. Therefore, it is essential to avoid taking any drugs during pregnancy unless the doctor specifically prescribes them. That is especially true for some seizure medications such as valproic acid – a drug prescribed for the treatment of convulsions, seizures, migraine headache, and bipolar disorders. It also is essential to avoid drinking alcoholic beverages of any kind during pregnancy. Being immunized against rubella (German measles) before becoming pregnant can prevent rubella-associated autism.

Following delivery, there are certain measures that may be helpful in preventing autism. One is early diagnosis and treatment of phenylketonuria (PKU). This is a hereditary disease that is caused by the lack of a liver enzyme required to digest the enzyme phenylalanine. Similarly, early diagnosis and treatment of celiac disease may reduce the risk of a child having autism.

Researchers at the University of Washington in Seattle recently began an innovative study funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Development. The goal is to find out whether autism can be prevented in a specific group of children. Enrolled in the study are infants aged six months or younger with an older sibling diagnosed with autism. They will be part of the first study designed to prevent autism symptoms from developing in children at high risk for the disorder. While the latest research indicates that autism affects as many as one in every 150 American newborns, about one out of every 20 infants who have an older sibling with autism will develop the disorder. This study represents the first attempt to intervene and treat infants who are at risk for autism at the earliest sign of symptoms. One of the study goals is to be able to identify autism as early as possible before more obvious symptoms show up. That allows health care professionals to become involved and begin treatment while the connections in a child’s brain are still responsive enough.

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