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Family History’s Role in Autism Development

May 24, 2024 | Autism

When a child is diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), the revelation brings about necessary adjustments in the family and its dynamics. Parents may wonder how to take care of their child, the financial considerations involved, whether or not their family history has influenced the onset of Autism, and what that means for current and future children.

Knowledge of family history is crucial in recognizing the early signs of Autism, which helps guide timely interventions that can significantly improve the quality of life for the child. There is a significant genetic basis for ASD, indicating a prevalence within families. However, the genes associated with Autism are complex and constantly interacting with the environment, indicating the need for early screening for families with a history of ASD and targeted interventions for individuals affected by it.

Understanding Autism and its Causes

Autism Spectrum Disorder is a complex neurodevelopmental disorder that manifests in early childhood, typically between 2-3 years of age. It is characterized by a range of symptoms affecting social interaction, communication, and behavior.

Autism is a spectrum disorder in that the severity and variety of symptoms differ widely across individuals. Some individuals may have difficulty understanding facial expressions or social cues, while others may not speak at all or mostly about their favorite topics or specific interests. Common behaviors include repetitive actions and verbalizations, strict adherence to routines, and hyper- or hyposensitivity to sensory inputs like noise, light, or touch.

The exact causes of Autism are not fully understood, and an agreed-upon theory of causation for the disorder is far from complete. What we do know is that Autism arises out of a complex interaction between many genes and the environment, with early environment influencing how it manifests across individuals.

The Roots of Autism: Genetics, Upbringing, and Early Environment

Genetics plays a significant role in Autism, with some studies indicating up to 90% heritability among symptoms in twin populations. That is, up to 90% of the differences between autistic and non-autistic twins have a genetic basis. However, these studies represent more of an upper threshold for the prevalence of heritability than an accurate estimate, which has yet to be established in the scientific community.

What we know is that Autism is associated with many genes (over 800) rather than by a single “Autism gene” and that how these genes interact with the environment drives changes in neurodevelopment early in life. Autism manifests epigenetically (as a complex interaction between environment, behavior, and genes) rather than only genetically (directly due to one’s genetic profile).

Beyond genetics, early upbringing and environmental conditions are also crucial in understanding how Autism manifests. However, while early upbringing can affect development to a degree, there is no evidence to support that specific parenting styles or behaviors cause Autism to develop.

There is more evidence to support that prenatal (before birth) factors t may cause mutations in gene expression, which increases the likelihood for the onset of Autism. According to our current understanding, the following risk factors in utero or during birth may increase the like likelihood of Autism developing:

  • The mother being at an advanced maternal age (35 or older)
  • Exposure to air pollution and certain pesticides at a very early age
  • Maternal obesity, diabetes, or immune system disorders
  • Premature birth or very low birth weight
  • Oxygen deprivation during birth

What these factors indicate is that Autism is a complex condition without a clear cause. However, the causes of Autism are primarily epigenetic, where several genes interact with environmental conditions very early in life. We are in the early stages of understanding the mechanisms of how this works.

Recognizing Autism With Early Detection and Screening

Reliable estimates of the prevalence of Autism is that it occurs in 1 in 44 children. While a family history of Autism doesn’t determine an individual’s fate, it does underscore the importance of monitoring for the early signs of ASD. Such awareness can prompt earlier screenings and subsequent interventions, which is critical to better developmental outcomes for individuals with ASD.

Early detection typically involves observing a child’s behavior and development from an early age for signs that they might deviate from typical developmental milestones. While milestones are guidelines, significant deviation across milestones can indicate a neurodevelopmental disorder.

Early screening typically occurs during well-being checkups with a pediatrician at 18- or 24-month milestones. Pediatricians often use specific screening tools such as the Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers-Revised (M-CHAT-R/F) to identify children who may need further evaluation.

If a child shows early signs of Autism or there is a significant family history of the disorder, the child may be recommended for a formal diagnostic process, which uses a combination of interviews, observation, review of family history and medical records, and testing to rule out other conditions.

Managing Autism With Family and Community Support

Managing Autism effectively often requires a combined effort of family and community support. It takes a village to raise a child, with each community member providing the necessary resources and emotional support for the child to thrive with their unique strengths.

At home, parents and siblings can provide the most support by educating themselves about Autism to better support their family members. Parents can also benefit from counseling, respite care, and a strong social network to avoid isolation and burnout from caregiving demands. Extended family members can offer practical support like childcare, transportation, or financial support.

Beyond the family, community resources play an integral part in managing ASD. These opportunities include access to specialized educational programs (such as Autism Speaks), therapy services such as speech, behavioral, and occupational therapy, and social groups that allow children with Autism to interact and learn within a group setting. Local support groups and networks provide practical advice and a sense of solidarity among families going through similar experiences.

Together, these supports create a comprehensive framework that addresses the multifaceted needs of children with ASD. This holistic approach helps manage day-to-day challenges and fosters long-term development, allowing individuals with Autism to thrive to their fullest potential.

Get the Support You Need With Start My Wellness

The exact causes of Autism are complex, but our current understanding strongly indicates that it arises out of interactions between genetics and the early prenatal environment. While family history doesn’t determine Autism, it does provide one factor which may indicate the need for a formal evaluation following developmental screenings.

Start My Wellness understands the challenges presented by Autism and the support required by both individuals with ASD and their families. With a focus on early screening, comprehensive support, and tailored interactions, Start My Wellness ensures that families receive the care and support necessary for managing ASD effectively.

If you’re seeking support in managing Autism, whether it’s for early detection, intervention, or ongoing care, reach out to Start My Wellness at (248)-514-4955 today and meet our therapists to learn more about how we can assist you and your family in navigating the complexities of Autism.


  1. Start My Wellness: Exploring the Spectrum: Understanding Different Types of Autism
  2. Start My Wellness: Early Signs of Autism Spectrum Disorder
  3. Journal of the American Medical Association: The Heritability of Autism Spectrum Disorder
  4. Genes: The Autism Spectrum: Behavioral, Psychiatric and Genetic Associations
  5. National Institute of Health: Autism
  6. Start My Wellness: Early Signs of Autism Spectrum Disorder
  7. Start My Wellness: Understanding the Autism Diagnosis Process
  8. Autism Speaks: Autism and Your Family
  9. Autism Speaks: Community Resources
Dr. Anton Babushkin

Author: Anton Babushkin, PhD

Looking for a Therapist? Start My Wellness has highly experienced Licensed Therapists that are currently accepting new patients.


Blog Posts Tags: Autism
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