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Factors Contributing to the Increased Risk of Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders

risk of autism Aug 08, 2023
risk of autism

If your child has autism spectrum disorder or another neurodevelopment disorder, you've probably agonized over what may have caused it. As you may know, there's no easy answer to this important question. 

These conditions affect how the brain functions and range from mild disorders to severe impairment, requiring lifelong care. These complex disorders likely have many causes which include genetic and environmental factors.

Certain risk factors may put children at a higher risk for these disorders.

Here's a look at the factors associated with the risk of autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders.

Neurodevelopmental Disorders 

With most neurodevelopmental disorders, the signs and symptoms begin in childhood, typically with autism, there are signs in the first year of life including lack of social smile, consistent eye contact or babbling and lack of pointing or waving. Sometimes, though, the child may experience regressive autism and the signs do not show up until the toddler or preschool years.

Signs and Symptoms of Neurodevelopmental Disorders

Signs and symptoms vary, depending on the disorder. Common neurodevelopmental disorders and their symptoms include:


The earliest signs may well be lack of engagement as described above but may also include irritability and difficulty soothing. Individuals with autism may resist touch, have difficulty communicating, and make little to no eye contact. However, symptoms of autism vary widely. Stimming behaviors or perseverations and OCD-like behaviors are not uncommon. Some children with autism may just seem more quirky whereas others may engage in self-harming or aggressive behaviors.

Early diagnosis of autism and early intervention improve the long-term outcome for children with autism. Thus, knowing the signs to look for and discuss with your pediatrician is essential and early onset of speech, behavioral or occupational therapy may help each child reach their fullest potential.


Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is the most commonly diagnosed neurodevelopmental disorder. ADHD and ADD are usually not diagnosed until school age. Symptoms often include:

  • Inattention
  • Impulsivity
  • Distractibility
  • Hyperactivity

If you notice signs of a neurodevelopment disorder or feel something isn't right with your child, talk to your doctor right away.

What Causes Neurodevelopmental Disorders?

The cause of autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders is still unknown. Some factors that may increase the risk for these disorders include:

  • Genetics
  • Low birth weight
  • Premature birth
  • Environmental exposure to heavy metals
  • Antibodies that interfere with a baby's brain development
  • Air pollution exposure during pregnancy
  • Problems with the immune system
  • Hypertension or diabetes during pregnancy
  • Poor nutrition during pregnancy
  • Exposure to pesticides
  • Fetal exposure to alcohol, smoking, recreational drugs, and medications
  • Advanced paternal age

Treatment for Neurodevelopmental Disorders

There is no cure for autism or other neurodevelopment disorders but recovery is possible. Depending on the disorder, there are treatments and therapeutic strategies available that can help control some of the signs and symptoms.

In functional medicine, we look for the root causes of every neurodevelopmental or other chronic illness.  Children with autism may have mitochondrial dysfunction, metabolic issues, immune system dysfunction and/or gastrointestinal issues.  All of these should be reviewed and treted with an experienced practitioner.

Older children, teens, and adults may benefit from working with a therapist or counselor to learn coping strategies for behavioral management. Therapy can also help families manage certain behavior patterns and cope with the disorder.

Good prenatal care and regular wellness checkups for young children are recommended for reducing risk factors. Early intervention is critical for children with neurodevelopmental disorders.

The Risk of Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders

If your child is showing symptoms of autism or a neurological disorder, seek care from a medical specialist. Although the risk of autism and other neurological disorders has increased in recent years, there is hope for these children and adults to live well and find the therapies and support they need.

There's a lot of great information that can be found in the documentary movie SPELLERS which includes the methods of SPELL 2 COMMUNICATE (S2C).

Dr. Nancy O'Hara is a pediatrician and functional medicine practitioner with over 2 decades of experience caring for children with neurodevelopmental disorders. She works with children, families, and practitioners to help improve the lives of her patients and their family members.

Contact Dr. O'Hara's team today to schedule a consultation.

Nancy O'Hara


Phone: (203) 834-2813
Fax: (203) 834-2590



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