What are the causes of Autism? This is perhaps the most common question Autism parents ask themselves, each other, or get asked by others. I once caught myself back raised, mouth foaming, nails scratching deep marks into wood when a therapist posted an article suggesting that moms were the cause of Autism; that something we did not do caused this developmental disability.
Yeah I see you, your back is arching up just so… I know you completely feel me on this preposterous suggestion!
I now understand though that he wasn’t saying that we as moms cause Autism; he had only chanced upon an article that suggested it and thought to helpfully post it where we could read it. He was hoping for a healthy, sane debate on the causes of Autism. I happened to meet him much later. Poor guy 🙂
Autism and its causes is a highly emotive topic
You see Autism and its causes is a highly emotive topic. Mothers spend days, weeks, months or even years, after they get their angel’s diagnosis, having conversations with themselves and going over every minute detail of the pregnancy — asking themselves if they missed something, overdid something, ate something…
So many internal self-querying conversations play up in the private search for causes of autism — “Was it the time I went to the neighbors and they had just painted?”; “Or maybe it was that time I missed my daily dose of folic acid?”; or ……….( fill in all manner of inward pointing questions here).
Mothers were blamed
Over and over and over this self-blame and self-doubt goes. It happens when someone throws you a side eye as your child screeches at the top of his lungs in Church or at the doctors because they are excited to just be there. At one time in the history of Autism, mothers were blamed. They were accused of being cold towards their child and thus causing….*drum roll* Autism. It did not matter that the child with Autism was forever in their mother’s arms. Mothers were the answer to the causes of autism mystery. That was the theory then.
Autism is caused by genes?
There is still a theory suggesting that Autism is genetic… I would argue that while this may be true, it does not explain why families with no history of Autism suddenly have an autistic child. Or why in a family of 5 children, one will get Autism and not their siblings, or their cousins on either side. Genes also shift the blame on the parents and no one wants to think their defective genetic makeup harmed their child.
Our cultures propose crazy causes of autism
If you live in good old Africa, well then, our cultures propose crazy causes of autism. I have heard things that would make a block buster series: a mom told me her in-laws accused her of having an affair during pregnancy and therefore the child she bore got Autism; another told me that she was told that she chose the wrong name for her child; yet another told me she was told her husband’s family was cursed and had been cursed for a long time, that they were just reaping the fruits of that curse now- with the autistic child; I have heard parents cry because they were told their child was demon possessed or that their child was mad, crazy, retarded… the list goes on.
Everyone tells you their theory
The neighbors tell you their cultural theory, the Church extends theirs, your family, your husband’s family, your community in the village, everyone tells you their theory. Some parents believe these purported causes of autism and lock up their children, hiding them from view. Some parents are just overwhelmed and do not know what to do with a child who will not sit still, who runs away all the time, who cannot be understood. The neighbors point and say “You must have done something wrong!”
Debate about vaccine injury being the cause of Autism
Recently, there has been an explosive debate about vaccine injury being the cause of Autism. There have been doctors coming out to say yes there’s something there, let’s talk a bit more about it, and denial from of pharmaceutical companies saying – no, vaccines are safe, we would never sell a drug that would cause harm. Back and forth it all goes. The movie-Vaxxed was banned, and then it was un-banned and is now showing in the West. I am still waiting to get a copy of the DVD – I wonder if River Road…Nooo…I will wait.
Whether Vaccines are among the causes of Autism or not may just be another theory being thrown about, trying to explain this developmental disorder that is the same yet so different in every child it touches. On the other hand it may be true. Therefore, knowing what causes it may be a step forward in finding out if something that has been labeled a lifelong disability can be cured.
What then for the parent to whom debating the cause without knowing the cure is of no immediate help?
1. Know without a shadow of doubt that you did not cause your child’s Autism.
If they (science), one day tell us that it was our genes or the vaccine we faithfully took our child to get; know in your heart that because you could never intentionally harm your child, you are not to blame.
2. Know that people can be unintentionally cruel
Know that culture and neighbors and even our brethren in Church or other places of worship can be unintentionally cruel and you have to find a way to forgive any words or glances thrown at you and move on. They are not this way towards you only. They say that to anything they do not understand.
3. Do not hide your child in the house.
They deserve to live out their lives experiencing everything there is to experience, learning, playing. The world needs to adjust to the presence of autistic individuals and that is just that!
4. Find a support group.
There are many- Kenya Autism Alliance, The Differently Talented Society of Kenya, Stepping Stones, Autism Awareness Kenya… find one and then find someone you can call often and talk about what you are hearing. Crazy theories or not, someone in the Autism tribe will listen.
5. Know you are not alone.
Like a fellow Autism mom said to me a week ago, “I will always pick calls from a fellow Autism parent, they are my tribe, we share something deeper than I share with those from my shags”. The Autism tribe is global and you will find that fellow parents will stop to listen to what you have to say.
6. KEEP ADVOCATING for your child.
You are your child’s best chance at having a good outcome. You are your child’s best chance at having the government notice them and start helping them. Therefore, speak out. Be loud. Your child needs you too. Your Autism tribe is cheering you on.