Field of Science

This just in: Being alive linked to autism

This last week or so, every day seemed to bring a new finding about something linked to autism. I blogged one of them--diabetes--but who really would have the wherewithal to follow the growing list of factors linked to autism? I guess I would because below, I give you that very list, including current pop hits and some blasts from the past, with some brief commentary. Without further ado--The ever-changing face of autism--or, as some have wisely suggested we call it--the autisms:

Refrigerator mothers. Sooo coooold.
Parents just making shit up. Because we have nothing better to do with our time.
Vaccines. SHUT. UP.
Mercury. Sigh.
The Interwebz. Someone pointed to them. Then there was autism.
Older mothers. We can only be so old, you know.
Depressed or stressed mothers. Wouldn't everyone have autism, then?
Sib with autism. Autism, family style.
Low birthweight. OK, but what about...
High birthweight. Confusing, isn't it?
Growing a big head. My son has the biggest head I've ever seen...except for my own.
Growing a big baby. My oldest son is huge. He also has an uncle who is 6'6".
Being a twin. Concordance confuses people.
Smoking during pregnancy. Is there anything smoking during pregnancy can't fuck up?
Diabetes during pregnancy. Didn't have it, so don't know.
Any complication at birth. And I mean...ANY complication.
Being born in summer. Yep. Seasonal autism.
Being a second born. First borns, only borns...sorry.
Being a later born. As if it weren't hard enough.
Being in a womb. When will we ever have extra utero development!
IVF. But we do have in vitro fertilization.
Lungs with symmetrical bronchiole bifurcations. For once, someone blames symmetry.
Genes AND the immune system gone awry--in the mother. I'm sure that's what made us cold.
Genes. Lots and lots of genes. If I listed them all, this would be an epic post.
Neanderthals (not really; just more genes)
Hyperinuslinemia and diabetes. Hypothesis, not study.
Impaired brain connections. Ya think?
Impaired sugar metabolism. This goes on the assumption that GI problems in autistic people differ from those in non-autistic people.
Biomarkers. Lots and lots of biomarkers. This one's the Jackson Pollock of studies.
Clomid. Mom's fault for wanting you.
Terbutaline. This is related to prematurity.
Glycine, something about glycine. You know the modern art that you stare at, trying to figure out why it's supposed to be art? This is the science version of that.
Regulation above the gene (epigenetics). Because no gene is an island or an unsullied, perfectly used code.
Living near a freeway. There goes the nation.
Specific facial features. Elves.
Specific finger features. My fingers tell me I'm male or a lesbian. I am neither.
Special brain differences. Ya think?
Too little oxytocin. Oh, oxytocin. You weird little hormone, you.
Too much androgen. Viva la...el...hormone!
Too much androgen...or too little estrogen? OK, so this one's my own contribution. A gal's gotta contribute.
Too much money. We wish.
Lyme disease. Tick, tock, not.
Antidepressants. See "stress, depression" above. If you're an autism parent and this list didn't do you in, congratulations on how well those anti-depressants are working.
Image, via Flickr.


  1. I have a feeling this list will be twice as long in a year's time. Awesome!

  2. My favorite part, as I'm sure you anticipated: "Specific finger features. My fingers tell me I'm male or a lesbian. I am neither." Yup.

  3. This wins the internet. And you win my vote. For something. :)

  4. @Spectrummy Mummy I have the same feeling. I'm sure something about innie vs outie belly buttons is coming next.

    @Shan As you know, I am actually a gay man happily trapped in a woman's body.

    @Sarah I wonder what one gets when one wins the Internet. If it includes all those awful Websites that play music, I'll have to decline.

  5. Great list with awesome snark commentary. Thanks, Emily!

  6. Brilliant. But probably not even close to exhaustive.

    You could have kept it shorter by listing things not linked to autism (yet).

    Next door neighbour's dog

    Pretty much stuck now...

  7. You forgot a couple:

    Living or being born in winter climates (google somalis autism minnesota)
    Lack of Vitamin D
    Lack of... or too much... folic acid (something I saw late at night on the University channel)

    Your list is making my FB! :) Thanks for the smile


  8. Jon, I point to the fact that women are notorious for loving chocolate and that women have children with autism. That's all.

    Pia...yes! More seasonal autism. It's just like MS. Except it's not.

  9. TV was a big one for a while...I think Baby Einstein was specifically blamed. Fucking Mozart.

  10. I'll take too much money thanks. Let me know where to send my bank details.
    Great post. as usual.

  11. Ya... I lost sleep over a couple of those beauties. My son has, in no particular order: older parents (we are resigned to the fact that we will be using walkers by the time he graduates from high school); I took taboo meds while pregnant ( I blame my Genes); baby Eisenstein was Gospel; we live near a freeway (got the house for a song); he's a much later born (his brothers were 16 & 12 at the time); we have our very large yard sprayed for weeds and bugs; and so on and so forth. Finally decided...WTF! Would really like to test out the 'too much money' theory though.

  12. Omg, you guys are cracking me up! This is hilarious! Thanks for the laugh!!! It was needed!

  13. Excellent list. A very short list I scratched out about five years ago also included cable TV, cell phones, wiFi, microwave ovens, genetically modified foods, and latex baby bottle nipples (all suspected because society’s increased use of these contemporary inventions coincides with clinicians’ increased use of contemporary diagnostic criteria -- and society’s increased awareness of, and services for, the autism phenotype.

    A similar list could be constructed of the ever increasing number of published papers and press releases which claim that their basic research findings “could be relevant to autism.”

  14. This comment has been removed by the author.

  15. OMG this was sooooo funny!! It really cracked me up, but it's sad as well though. How little we know about how and why or what to do. All we can do is shot gun blast and hope one or more of the pellets hit...

  16. Love it! As someone with relatives born in the '30s who clearly were on the spectrum, as well as the 50's, 60's, 70's and 90's (I like genetics as a culprit for obvious reasons!), ranging from farmers to military kids to yuppies, I really cant believe researchers are paid to come up with some of these theories. Thanks for the post, please keep it up!

  17. At this point I don't even know how we've avoided it. I will be careful with the next kid.

  18. This list is amazing and heartbreaking. As a former Statistics teacher I absolutely LOVE IT! I would have had a field day with this post in my class. What a great project it would be to look at each of these studies and have students identify the biases - in study design? In reporting of the conclusions? I'm not claiming any of these people were deliberately unethical or deceptive, but the data is so varied! Something's awry! It's an amazing exercise in critical thinking about our data and our conclusions!

    OK OK I'm going to stop myself! I think I was about to type an entire Stats lecture here!

    Fascinating... really, really fascinating. We hear these studies all the time, but to have them all gathered here together is quite epic!

    Thank you for sharing this!

  19. My stat teacher just told me the one thing you always have to keep in mind with every study. Correlation is NOT causation.

  20. The title alone cracked me up, and it just kept getting better: older mothers, elves, oxytocin. And thanks to you, I was dismayed to discover my unrepentantly heterosexual fingers.

  21. The "Extreme Male Brain" theory is going through some rework at the moment, especially when they found the suspiciously high proportion of male Aspies transitioning to female. Well I suppose Aspies can mess up any theory ...

    Oh, and the vaccine theory is making a comeback too.

  22. Wasnt there a theory early on that parents who didn't use proper and reinforced discipline "created" the autism by um.. sparing the rod?

  23. Jillyboo: That sounds like a good case of "get you either way".
    "Were you strict with the child?"
    If "yes" - it's because you are a refrigerator mum.
    If "no" - it's the "spare the rod" cause.

    I did have a refrigerator mum by the way, but I think it's more to do with my father being Aspie.

  24. Oh, could I, as one of a partnered pair of science types, have missed this one?!?

    Science causes autism!

  25. Thanks! This is a great list. I think my child has autism because it is genetic - I can look closely at my dad and see way too many similarities. Does it matter to me where it comes from? Not really, I just want him to be happy.

  26. Ha, awesome!

    I'm a little confused, though, because I had thought firstborns, too, were somewhat more likely to have autism? I definitely remember reading that.

    ... and I only have a few of these: I was a big baby (who grew into a big child, a tall teenager and a great big adult), was born in summer, had a difficult birth (emergency C-section) and lived near a highway for most of my childhood (I lived in a small town; there may not have been anywhere in town that *wasn't* near that highway!).

    But I am not a twin (though I often wish I were), I'm a firstborn (which I am *SURE* I've read somewhere is also a risk factor for autism, even though you do not list it), my parents were ... not young, but also not old (early 30s), and the biggest gap between siblings in our family occurs between me and my younger brother; close spacing seems not to have affected either him or my sister. And, with the Internet ... I was a teenager before I got on the Internet, so anyone seeking to blame that for my autism will have to explain how it could work retroactively ...

  27. Contractin Rubella while in a susceptible stage of pregnancy, Valproic acid intake while pregnant, and certain genetic anomolies. I probably spelt everything incorrectly, but you get my drift.

  28. Giggling so much it hurts.

    Maybe I shall sue you for being the cause of my internet-based biological propensity for depressive response articulation syndrome... or maybe it's just autism.

  29. Love it, there's another four or five in here, all along the lines of autism caused by 'food', but not in that way...


Comments for this blog are closed.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.