The reality is that we are not even certain that there has been a significant increase in the number of people with autism.
All we know is that, when the diagnostic criteria expanded, so did the number of people who qualified for diagnosis. And as awareness expanded, so did the number of diagnoses. Does that mean that more people are actually autistic now than 20 or 30 years ago? The answer is a qualified “maybe.”
As of the writing of this article, there are very few things that, without a doubt,
You Can’t Catch Autism
Some people are nervous about allowing their children to come into contact with autistic peers out of anxiety over contagion.
But autism is not an infectious disease; it can’t be passed from person to person through a virus, a bacteria, or any other means (except heredity). Even if your child is constantly in contact with a child on the autism spectrum, he or she cannot “catch” autism. You may notice a typically developing child copying the mannerisms of an autistic peer, but no one can become autistic as a result of physical proximity.
You Can’t Cause Autism By Allowing Your Baby to “Cry It Out”
Parents sometimes worry whether their decision to allow a baby to cry rather than hurrying to comfort him could have caused autism. The answer is no: a child’s frustration cannot cause autism. And while child abuse can certainly cause emotional problems unrelated to autism, allowing a baby to “cry it out” is not child abuse.
Depending upon the particular situation, it is possible that excessive tantrums could be related to as-yet-undiagnosed autism. Even infants with autism may be unusually sensitive to light, smell, sounds, or physical sensations – so a wet diaper may be more upsetting to an autistic baby than to a typically developing baby. But there is no way that the autism can be caused by tantrums or emotions.
Poor Nutrition Doesn’t Cause Autism
Many parents have put their children with autism on gluten and casein-free diets (and other special diets) with good results. That does not mean that they “caused” their children’s autism by feeding them wheat or dairy (or French fries or soda). Research suggests that some children with autism have gastrointestinal issues that can cause discomfort, and removing the cause of that discomfort is very likely to improve behavior, attentiveness, and mood.
Thus, while a change in diet may (in a small percentage of cases) improve autistic symptoms, poor nutrition doesn’t cause autism.
“Bad” Parenting Doesn’t Cause Autism
A few decades ago, Bruno Bettelheim infamously influenced the medical profession with his theory that autism is caused by cold, “refrigerator” mothers. Bruno Bettelheim was wrong. Very, very wrong.