Does Autism Begin Before or After Birth?

Does Autism Occur Before or After Birth?

Does Autism Begin Before or After Birth?

There is limited data regarding how or why autism begins, and now researchers are also beginning to ask "when?" New research supports the hypothesis that autism starts after a baby has been born.


When a child develops autism has long been a contentious topic, with some arguing that they are born with it and others believing that it appears after they have been born. However, a recent study may be capable of putting this argument to sleep, as it may have found more conclusive evidence.

A new answer on the horizon

Dr. Theresa Deisher works for Sound Pharmaceutical Debate, and she explains the promising findings, "a recent clinical study was conducted at Duke University where they treated children with autism spectrum disorder [ASD] with their own banked umbilical cord blood."

The researchers discovered that over half of autism patients, around 56 percent to be exact, were able to express improvement after the infusion of their own umbilical cord blood takes place.

When is autism developed?

So, now that we are aware that autism is developed after birth, but that still begs the question of when exactly it is developed. Autism Speaks explains "autism has its roots in early brain development. However, the most obvious signs of autism and symptoms of autism tend to emerge between 12 and 18 months of age. Some infants and toddlers begin develop normally until the second year of life, when they lose skills and develop autism - a pattern called 'regression.'"

An expert from Autism Speaks goes on to say, "at present, autism can't be reliably diagnosed until around 2 years of age. However, parents often notice symptoms before then. In fact, analysis of videotapes from children's first-birthday parties shows that signs of autism are already present for many children at that age, even when parents don't become concerned until months or years later."

He further explains, "in most medical conditions, the underlying processes are triggered before the signs and symptoms become obvious. Consider arthritis. The joints are breaking down and inflammation is setting in years before the aches and pains appear. In dyslexia (reading disability), the symptoms aren't obvious until a child starts learning how to read. But the symptoms are rooted in brain differences that are present much earlier in development. A similar chain of events occurs in autism."

He wants people to know that the situation is not helpless, and that there is a benefit to being aware of the potential signs of autism, as early diagnosis can be useful. He says, "given how complex the brain is, it can be very difficult to correct differences in brain development and function that start so early in life. This is why treatment for autism needs to be so intensive, and why early diagnosis and treatment are so important."

Another interesting piece of data to note is that diagnoses are becoming more prevalent at an earlier age. Amy Wetherby, Ph.D. is the director of the Center of Autism and Related Disabilities at Florida State University in Tallahassee, and she explains, "the average age had been about 3 1/2, with many children diagnosed much later." Now, it is significantly earlier.

Why the earlier diagnoses? And what could this reveal about diagnosis itself? Read on to learn more.