Autism and Pregnancy

Autism and Pregnancy

By Dr. Kathy Ferraro

April is Autism awareness month. The CDC reported just a few days ago that the incidence of autism increased from 1 in 88 just a few years ago to to 1 in 68.

This is a nearly 30 percent increase in the incidence of autism.

Per the CDC’s reports it is almost 5 times more common in boys than girls, an incidence of 1 in 42 boys versus 1 in 189 girls. Another staggering statistic is that 1 in 6 children in the United States had a developmental disability, data from 2006-2008.

What is responsible for this increase? The typical answer is “We don’t know, it is likely an interaction between an individual’s genes and their environment.”

This is a disability that affects more than just the child, but their family and as I have come to learn the community as a whole. We must be vigilant and educate ourselves and our friends and families of the risks of this condition and what we can all do to help decrease it.

The literature has reported many risk factors for developing autism. Extremes of age of mothers and fathers, viral infections in utero, exposure to air pollution and countless chemicals have been associated with an increased risk of the disease. There are many other conditions that have been associated, and now we have an article from the New England Journal of Medicine, just published this past month.

This article reports the results from the examination of brain tissues from 22 children who died. 11 children with varying severities of the autism spectrum disorder(mild to severe) were compared with 11 typical children. The study revealed patches of brain tissue that did not develop an appropriate genetic signature in 10 of the 11 children with autism. Interestingly, these patches were found in the areas of the brain, which are responsible for understanding language and social cues, two of the symptoms strongly associated with autism spectrum disorders. These abnormal patches were only identified on examination of the brain tissue in 1 out of the 11 typically developing children.

Based on these findings, it is suggested that the abnormalities in brain structure likely occurred in utero, when the brain tissue is first developing. As the brain continues to rapidly form for the first 2 years of life, the need for earlier interventions becomes even more apparent. The biggest gains in autism therapies often occur at earlier ages because the brain is rapidly changing during that time.

This brings me to my concern, pregnancy. Developmental disabilities are incredibly burdensome to our society, our families and the individuals affected. They have a great impact considering the fact that there is an estimated 1.2 million children and teens affected with autism in this country.

We must take care of our pregnant mothers. We must allow them to rest when they need to. Decrease their stresses, as the maternal stress hormone cortisol, has been shown to affect their children in later life. Hold the door open for them and give them your seat on the bus. If you are not well, don’t expose a pregnant mother.

As for our mothers and future mothers; use environmentally safe cleaning products and lawn care products. Supplement with B-vitamins and limit processed and artificial foods and preservatives that contain many petrochemicals. Eat real foods and quality foods, as Sally Fallon author of Nourishing Traditions stated, “In the past, butter from cows that consumed the rapidly growing spring grass was specifically saved for pregnant women because of its nourishing attributes.”

As a parent and a mother with a child with autism, I now have a greater respect for these suggestions. I unfortunately contracted viral meningitis during my pregnancy with my daughter during the first trimester. I had taken lots of Tylenol, a substance known to decrease your bodies natural antioxidant abilities. At the same time I was also going through the severe stresses of taking an oral board exam in Emergency Medicine.

I cannot change these situations of the past, but I can tell you that that experience has been and forever will be a lifelong lesson. Keep pregnancy sacred and respect it.

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