New study suggests autism starts in the womb
November 8th, 2011
06:13 PM ET

New study suggests autism starts in the womb

Children with autism have many more brain cells than typically developing children, researchers have found, supporting previous research that suggests that autism may be caused by something going awry before a baby is born as opposed to something triggering autism in a toddler.

Scientists studied the brains of 13 boys and found those with autism had 67% more brain cells than typically developing boys. They specifically looked at the part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex because it's the part that's responsible for social, emotional, communication and language development. Having too many neurons or nerve cells in the part of the brain that controls the very features that children with autism struggle with may explain the origin of autism, the study suggests.

"In autism something is going terribly wrong with mechanisms that control the number of neurons beginning in prenatal life and may extend to perinatal and early post-natal life," says lead author Eric Courchesne, Ph.D.  When there are too many brain cells, the brain can't wire itself up correctly.  If there's too much wiring in the prefrontal cortex, it could help explain why children with autism have poor social skills, difficulty communicating and why some may never learn to speak at all.

In addition to finding too many brain cells, Courchesne and his colleagues found the brains of children with autism were heavier than those of typically developed children. "The brains of boys with autism were 17.6% heavier than controls. It wasn't as big as would be predicted based on the neuron count alone," says Courchesne. He adds that he would have predicted those brains to be maybe 30% heavier than a normally developing brain. He acknowledges that this raises more questions than it answers, which is why more research like this needs to be done.

Even though this is only a very small study – the brains of  seven boys with autism and six boys without were analyzed – this research is being seen as quite important because this study looked at the brains of boys between the ages of 2 and 16. Previous studies included brain samples from older individuals, with severe autism and other mental disabilities. Determining how many neurons are in the brain can  be done  only after somebody has died, Courchesne explains, and there simply aren't that many samples of brains from children available. The brain samples for this research came from children who had died from drowning or other accidents.

There are only two parts of the brain where neurons are generated after birth – in the hippocampus and in the olfactory bulb. Because this study looked at a part of the brain where all the neurons are generated before the a baby is born, the findings add significantly to the mounting biological evidence that autism develops before birth in "some, possibly all, cases," according to an accompanying editorial in the Journal of the American Medical Association, which published the research on Tuesday.

Courchesne says that neurons or nerve cells really start developing in the prefrontal cortex at the end of the first trimester of pregnancy. Between the 10th and 20th week of gestation, the number of fetal brain cells grow from maybe hundreds of thousands to more than 20 billion in a part of the brain that doesn't exist in lower mammals. He also says that the brain produces about 20 billion more cells that help the growth of another layer in the brain, but that those extra cells are supposed to die towards the end of a pregnancy. So increased nerve cells in the prefrontal cortex or brain overgrowth or maybe a combination of both may contribute to autism.

This isn't the first study to suggest brain size or overgrowth play a role in autism.  "These new results, along with an earlier study reporting altered wiring of the prefrontal cortex, focus our attention on this critical area of the brain in autism, according to Dr. Thomas Insel, the director of the National Institute of Mental Health. The NIMH, which is a part of the National Institutes of Health, supports the University of California- San Diego Autism Center of Excellence, where Courchesne conducts his research.

"This is a good example where you have too much of a good thing, it can be bad for you," says Dr. Max Wiznitzer, a neurologist and autism expert at the Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio.  He likens the brain to an assembly line with too many workers (brain cells) sitting around. And when you have too many workers on the line, they can interfere with one another rather than contribute to the factory's (or brain's) productivity. Wiznitzer agrees that even though this is a small study, it's consistent with previous research.

"It's groundbreaking [even though] it doesn't give us a clear answer," says Dr. Jeremy Veenstra-Vanderweele, an autism researcher at the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center. He says this research is "significant because it narrows the window during development when autism-related brain abnormalities emerge."

All of the experts agree the reason that too many nerve cells exist is not yet known. This study suggests it might be the excess number of nerve cells or the excess brain size that is linked to autism, or it might be a combination of both. But since the excess neurons were found in a part of the brain that develops before a child is born, it points to a prenatal problem playing a role in autism.

"This is not consistent with that claims that heavy metals [from vaccines for example] cause the death of brain cells," says Wiznitzer, because there are too many brain cells not less. The authors of the editorial suggest that this study along with previous brain studies and recent advances in genetics, imaging, neuropathology, animal models, and epidemiology "autism research is at last turning a corner."

soundoff (310 Responses)
  1. Bill

    The only thing I can think of that might cause autism (and schizophrenia) is a virus that gets into the fetus at a very early stage
    such a herpes, toxoplasmosis or some other common virus. Diets, vaccines and environment just do not make sense.

    November 8, 2011 at 18:42 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Christine

      Environment makes a lot of sense.
      A few examples:
      – age of parents at conception
      – levels of noise developping brains are subjected to. Loud music, TV, vehicles. All that has to affect a developping brain
      – most medications are not recommended for pregnant women, but preservatives in food are deemed fine. How can we be sure?
      – polution inhaled by the pregnant mother and the newborn, this has increased a lot, especially in large city

      November 8, 2011 at 23:26 | Report abuse |
    • Steve T.

      Or it's evolution

      November 8, 2011 at 23:37 | Report abuse |
    • Actual Scientist

      The only thing you can think of? Step aside everyone, BILL can't think of anything else, therefore he must be right! Get your anti-science thinking off the internet before some idiot believes you. Leave the science to those of us IN the field, the grown ups.

      November 8, 2011 at 23:38 | Report abuse |
    • Pix

      Actual Scientist: You might be right in saying there are other things, but the way you're addressing this person (Bill) tells me that you are for sure NOT a scientist. "Leave it to us"? Please.

      November 9, 2011 at 00:07 | Report abuse |
    • Ana

      You may never know....what causes miscarriages? I had many but also healthy children. None are autistic, and they were all vaccinated...could it be environmental related? The more we look for real causes and stop the vaccination conspiracy theory, the faster we will find a cure we desperately need for so many children...

      November 9, 2011 at 00:17 | Report abuse |
    • Karen

      In fact, Bill may be correct. Many children with autism respond to treatment of Valtrex. There are many doctors who believe that there is a combination of infections and viruses that cause a sort of "perfect storm". This could also certainly affect brain activity. And NO ONE will get me to believe that vaccines do not add to this "storm". My son received the MMR vaccine and became a different child OVERNIGHT. It was no coincidence. Diet and treatment were crucial in saving him. MB12 injections were crucial.

      November 9, 2011 at 01:16 | Report abuse |
    • burnx

      There is a strong link with schizophrenics having creative and intelligent family members. It could be one of those thigns that's beneficial if you have one copy of the gene. For example sickle cell anemia; if you have one copy you are immune to malaria, if you have 2; you have sickle-cell anemia. I have heard autism is more common amongst children of engineers.

      November 9, 2011 at 03:07 | Report abuse |
    • Dave r

      @Karen: “My son received the MMR vaccine and became a different child OVERNIGHT. It was no coincidence.”

      The fact that the change was overnight doesn’t change the fact that it was coincidence. You wouldn’t know.

      “Diet and treatment were crucial in saving him. MB12 injections were crucial.”

      How would you know that diet and treatment “saved” him, and not just that he seemed to improve because of the amount of attention you’re giving him?

      I imagine your heart’s in the right place, but what you’re doing right here is spreading horrible misinformation….

      November 9, 2011 at 03:33 | Report abuse |
    • Geraldine

      Listen to the video made by Dr. Ursula Anderson on Youtube, It makes sense, especially in lieu of this new information.

      November 9, 2011 at 04:38 | Report abuse |
    • DR.D

      None of this is new or surprising. Read this reasearch article in the Journal of Neuroscience:
      The same MIA occurs with vaccinations of the mother during pregnancy.
      Wakeup everyone!! It's right there in front of us.

      November 9, 2011 at 08:07 | Report abuse |
    • Chartreuxe

      The environmental toxin theory makes the most sense to me. A genetic predisposition is something I've seen in my husband's family and perhaps my own (I'm adopted without any medical history)...but who knows about that kind of thing as yet except to track it in the family tree? Of course my inlaws are in denial about that so it's a sensitive topic.

      Toxoplasmosis, Herpes, and other viruses are easy to rule out and have been done.

      Environmental toxins such as pesticide residues are in our food and water now. One in 110 children are born with some form of Autism. My son was Autistic from birth. He behaved differently in the newborn nursery from all the other newborns. I remarked upon this and it was noted in his chart.

      How will we change this? I don't know, but we need to do it, and soon. Our future depends on it.

      November 9, 2011 at 12:03 | Report abuse |
    • Billie

      The evidence in my family suggests that it's genetic. My child has Sensory Integration Disorder (high functioning on the austim spectrum) and after I heard the diagnosis and understood the symptoms, I realised that my father has had symptoms of Aspergers his whole life, but just hadn't been diagnosed. There is also another relative with autism disorder. I think many people have these disorders, but haven't been diagnosed. I believe the numbers are rising world-wide because we know better how to diagnose it and because of population growth. Even so, I wouldn't trade my son for anything. Although it's a challenge sometimes, he's loving, kind, intellectually gifted, very observant and funny as hell! At least now I can forgive my dad too. He has a terrible temper and flies into rages that are very frightening. I spent my whole childhood being terrified of him and the whole family walked on eggshells trying not to set him off. Everyone thought it was just his personality, so ignorance and denial played a role. It makes me sad that now, at 78 years old, we are just finding out what's really going on. Now I see him in a totally different light; he wasn't being mean and scary on purpose, he just couldn't help it. Peace to all.

      November 9, 2011 at 12:58 | Report abuse |
    • Lyn

      Toxoplasmosis is not caused by a virus!

      November 9, 2011 at 13:28 | Report abuse |
  2. Tina

    If this is true then why do many parents say that their child was fine up to a certain point, was making eye contact, playing like a normal baby/child and then it suddenly changed one day with no rhyme or reason. I think this is where the immunization theory came in because many parents said their child was fine up until that point. If this study is correct or has any basis to it then how can that be explained?

    November 8, 2011 at 19:29 | Report abuse | Reply
    • c s

      My guess is that parents observation of their child sees some differences and dismisses because all children develop at a different pace. Finally comes the realization that the child is fundamentally different and is not developing normally. When the parent accept this difference; it seems like it happens quickly. The parents then try to find the cause of the differences and fixate on some event: a sickness, an infection, a vaccination, an accident to the head, etc. Only if the child's action was video recorded periodically could a parent see that the child was different from a very early age. Probably the most significant event would be that the child is not learning to speak which usually occurs between 6 and 12 months old.

      November 8, 2011 at 20:52 | Report abuse |
    • Elizabeth

      CS, that doesn't explain regression. Some children are walking, talking, and totally normal and by the next day can't speak or do any of their normal activities.

      November 8, 2011 at 21:22 | Report abuse |
    • Gretta

      Something triggers the disorder. It doesn't necessarily have to be anything external – our bodies have millions of signals and upregulation of various genes and products at certain developmental ages completely independent of anything happening outside the body.

      November 8, 2011 at 22:54 | Report abuse |
    • Wanda

      Tina many diseases that may begin before birth do not show themselves until after certain developmental stages are reached at which point various manifestations, including regression, may become apparent. Schizophrenia is a perfect example. The propensity for schizophrenia is likely present even before birth, but does not surface until much later when a person who was once capable of rational, logical thought begins to lose those abilities.

      November 8, 2011 at 23:23 | Report abuse |
    • Linda

      The fact is ... Just about the time autistic tendencies are noticed is the time the particular vaccine is administered ... coincidence? The best medical minds believe so...

      November 8, 2011 at 23:23 | Report abuse |
    • pazke

      Elizabeth – if a child has normal development and then the next day can't walk or talk, then that is not autism. That is another neurological disorder that a doctor has mistakenly diagnosed as autism. Autism is overdiagnosed in this country. Sometimes children have treatable conditions (such as metabolic disorders) that go untreated because people are quick to jump to the autism diagnosis.

      November 8, 2011 at 23:24 | Report abuse |
    • Sarah

      Linda, the facts on that are that yes, it is just chance. The single study that said there was causation between autism and vaccines has been shown to be totally false, and that when observing the videos of children who are diagnosed with autism, they even at an earlier age showed signs of it (before the age of vaccines) just not enough to be noticed till after the fact.

      November 8, 2011 at 23:41 | Report abuse |
    • Pix

      C S: This is too dismissive of parents' observations. I'm a parent and I know my child. I see him every minute, every day. If something changes abruptly and it doesn't make sense, doctors should take this into account. Because dismissing what many parents say isn't smart for science either. Maybe it's not vaccines, studies show that it probably isn't the cause (even though I'm still undecided on the vaccine's role after reading and doing lots of research on both "sides"), maybe it's something else, maybe it's not environmental, maybe it's in the genes. But what MANY parents say should be carefully analyzed.

      November 9, 2011 at 00:15 | Report abuse |
    • ab77

      Actually, Linda, the best minds in medicine say NO. It's the minds like Jenny McCarthy who keep on insisting on the correlation despite the fact that the data presented in the ONE study thought to link MMR to autism was shown to be FRADULENT. You'll have to forgive me if I don't take McCarthy's opinion as medical and scientific fact. The American Academy of Pediatrics has said time and time again that the study was a farce.

      November 9, 2011 at 00:42 | Report abuse |
    • Genes

      My son's autism is genetic – it's all over the family. That being said, after a long process of identifying & minimizing dietary triggers, he functions much better. I would not be shocked if we find out that vaccines trigger complications from this pre-existing condition. These kids are fragile. Maybe the answer to the autism/vaccine debate lies somewhere in the middle.

      November 9, 2011 at 00:46 | Report abuse |
    • Valentijn

      There could be a combination of factors. High glutamate can reflect low glutathione (and low cysteine) production. Glutamate is associated with learning and brain development. Glutathione is used by the body to detox itself of heavy metals and keep various systems (like the immune system) functioning properly.

      So you get the high glutamate symptoms pre-birth, then add in low-glutathione symptoms when susceptible kids are exposed to various toxins, potentially including heavy metals and other preservatives in vaccines.

      November 9, 2011 at 00:57 | Report abuse |
    • Claire

      A close friend has an autistic child, and we could tell when he was very young, just months old. But the parents insist he had no signs until he was 2, although we even pointed out issues when he was 5 or 6 months old. I think a lot of it is denial, and the fact that it isn't until most kids start really talking a lot and having more mature responses to the environment that it becomes obvious.

      November 9, 2011 at 05:20 | Report abuse |
    • raggedhand

      My cousin's son is severely autistic. He was born the same time as my daughter and we first got together when they were barely crawling. At that time the rest of the family, particularly the grandmothers, could see that there was something "different" about him. His parents noticed his developmental delays much later, when he was around three and beat themselves up over the vaccine controversy (we're English and it was just coming out in the the UK then) but we all knew it wasn't the vaccines. The boy was born that way.

      Parents can observe and say they know their child better than anyone, but bias and the understandable desire not to see something scary in your child does not make their observations dependable. The vaccine controversy preys on the insecurities of the parents and the desperate desire to blame an outside force for their children's condition.

      November 9, 2011 at 08:10 | Report abuse |
    • Kieron Seymour-Howell (kieseyhow)

      Because, the parent is the last to acknowledge a problem, simple. Others often notice abnormalities in a children, or their development before the parent does. If you take a subject and place them in a situation where something changes slowly, they are FAR less likely to notice that change or the differences from the norm. That is basic psychology. There are many cases which involve research into this phenomenon.

      November 9, 2011 at 10:34 | Report abuse |
    • Chartreuxe

      Why? Because most parents aren't trained observers and because denial is involved. It's likely the toxins build up until a point is reached where overload happens and there's a response or a trigger is tripped. Basically, the kid gets poisoned. Remember, kids are small and it would take less toxin to make them sick or poison them.

      This is what happened to my son. He was different from birth but he also had the change in his personality when he was about 2 years of age. I'll never forget that day as long as I live.

      November 9, 2011 at 12:07 | Report abuse |
    • SixDegrees

      Because parents tend to make this crap up after the fact, and were filtering out the warning signs that appeared earlier because they didn't know what to look for or didn't want to see it.

      November 10, 2011 at 02:54 | Report abuse |
  3. domini

    It's probably genetic. They've found the gene switches- and it runs in families. The switches have an age onset. Some mental illnesses and other genetic illnesses start showing symptoms at certain ages. Severe autism appears to be genetic.

    My brother was severely autistic. It manifests in subtle ways many parents miss before 18 months. Eighteen to 24 months is a coincidence. The MMR has had multiple subtances removed, and the rate of autism is still exploding. Parents are refusing or delaying the MMK, and the rate still climbs. It's not the vaccine. My brother was diagnosed in the 70s, long before the MMR was mandated. It manifested at 2 then,too.

    November 8, 2011 at 20:08 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Imperabo


      November 8, 2011 at 21:00 | Report abuse |
    • RonnieReagan


      November 8, 2011 at 22:42 | Report abuse |
    • Claire

      I agree that it appears there is a genetic component, and I wouldn't be surprised if, in some or all cases there also is an environmental component, such as pollution.

      November 9, 2011 at 05:23 | Report abuse |
  4. Anne McElroy Dachel

    Many of us in the autism community continue to marvel at how much time and money is spent on when it comes to autism and still there are no answers for why one percent of children now have an autism diagnosis, and among only boys, it's almost two percent.

    Study after study show a variety of abnormalities and exposures that are supposed to be related to autism. These include things like older dads, older moms, having siblings too close together, abnormal lung size, enlarge brains, pesticides, lack of vitamin D, too much TV watching, and living too close to a freeway. Researchers will look at anything except the most controversial claim of all: that a out-of-control vaccine schedule is damaging a generation of children.

    Anne Dachel, Media editor: Age of Autism http://www.ageofautism.com

    November 8, 2011 at 20:35 | Report abuse | Reply
    • c s

      No one really knows the cause of autism. If vaccinations are really cause the surge of autism, then you would expect that autism would be extremely rare in third world countries where vaccinations are rare. Of course in many third world countries many children die early and maybe many of these children do not live long enough to develop autism. Many years ago, children who were considered to be "different" were put into state hospitals for the insane. So maybe children with autism ended up in state hospitals instead of being in public. Also many years ago, a child could do poorly in school and could still find a place in society doing many forms of manual labor. Autism has a range of symptoms from very severe to very mild. At least our society does dump them into state hospitals to die quickly.

      November 8, 2011 at 21:07 | Report abuse |
    • JeffinIL

      It is NOT the vaccines. Autism is increasing worldwide. No one knows why yet. Vaccines were worth looking into when they contained thimerosal but it was a dead end. It would have made things so much simpler if that had panned out.

      Thanks for posting as I now know an autism "resource" to avoid. I have two autistic children, a boy and a girl.

      November 8, 2011 at 22:01 | Report abuse |
    • emma

      There have been many studies examining vaccinations and autism for potential links. They found no links. Statistically similar levels of autism in children without vaccinations. Statistically similar levels of autism in children living in countries with less aggressive vaccination schedules. Quite simply – it has been ruled out as a cause in quite a few studies.

      November 8, 2011 at 22:42 | Report abuse |
    • Felix

      What a ridiculous claim that researches are ignoring or not looking into the claim about vaccines. That "claim" was studied by several countries and thousands of independent research groups. It is the most studied claim of any supposed cause of autism. Give it up.

      November 8, 2011 at 22:47 | Report abuse |
    • Nelly

      sure, kids who die due to preventable infectious diseases cannot develop autism not even unimmunized babies around them – since they are all dead! your theory makes perfect sense. have you heard of genes causing diseases? like mutations in cancer genes cause cancer? you are not helping, but hurting the autism community and the kids suffering from this disease by promoting fake and unproven ideas.

      November 8, 2011 at 22:48 | Report abuse |
    • Maurine meleck

      Thank you Ms. Dachel for all your great information. People still actually think that there has been a fully vaccinated vs fully unvaccinated study of children. We know it has never been done. Until then, this argument will continue. People also don't understand that there is no such thing as a genetic epidemic-even with an overproduction of brain cells.( which this tudy says is genetic) We know there are none so blind as those that will not see.
      Maurine meleck, SC

      November 8, 2011 at 23:05 | Report abuse |
    • Q

      Dear Ms. Dachel,

      I regret to inform you that your horses (i.e. thimerosal, MMR/Wakefield, vaccine schedule, etc) have all been humanely euthanized. Continuing to beat them will not make them stand again...

      November 8, 2011 at 23:15 | Report abuse |
    • Anonymous

      Researchers HAVE looked at vaccines, repeatedly, and in depth. They've shown that there is no link. The one study purportedly "proving" such a link turned out to be actually fraudulent.

      And in the case of this particular study, they've demonstrated a difference between children that starts not only before any vaccination, but before BIRTH. There have been other studies, such as observations of eye fixation, which show discernible differences in children at a very early age, in the first few months of life.

      November 9, 2011 at 02:04 | Report abuse |
    • Kieron Seymour-Howell (kieseyhow)

      The problem with most people is they approach problems emotionally. If you start compiling some excel spreadsheets and start charting data, you will see that the statistics clearly state that in "the majority of cases" vaccines is not to blame. However, that is not to say they are never to blame.

      Autism is likely to be genetic for the most part, and is triggered by certain lifestyle choices. I would say that the lifestyle choices that trigger autism are more prevalent now and so we see more cases. Also, for every severely autistic person, there are likely five times as many mild cases that are rarely noticed or correctly diagnosed. And, those people are breeding.

      It might be that autism is a response to social stress as a whole, and not as much as individual stresses (including environmental). I have a theory that autism will spring up when social stresses reach a critical level to empower out-of-the-box thinking and innovation in the group. It may simply be a wide scale response to a degradation of human society as a matter of group survival. The more the world falls into decay, the more you will see radical brain activity as a means of compensation to try to pull the group out of that situation. Like I said, it is a theory.

      People who only speak in absolutes are generally not very intelligent or have chosen to be ignorant for whatever reasons. Likely they have emotional issues.

      November 9, 2011 at 10:26 | Report abuse |

      I am happy to see that the message is getting out there that vaccines DO NOT cause autism by the responses posted for Anne.

      Your message is dead on arrival. Anne, vaccinate your kids and stop giving them raw milk.

      November 9, 2011 at 14:21 | Report abuse |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      "Researchers will look at anything except vaccines". No, researchers look at everything. People like you will look at nothing else BUT vaccines.

      November 9, 2011 at 21:48 | Report abuse |
  5. cannat

    I wish we could get Anne McElroy Dachel's input on this.

    November 8, 2011 at 21:56 | Report abuse | Reply
    • ryan


      November 8, 2011 at 22:50 | Report abuse |
    • kake79


      November 8, 2011 at 23:01 | Report abuse |
    • Lloyd

      I 'like' it a-lot.

      November 8, 2011 at 23:08 | Report abuse |
    • ttyl

      double like

      November 8, 2011 at 23:46 | Report abuse |
    • Pix


      November 9, 2011 at 00:34 | Report abuse |
  6. JImmy

    Anne McElroy Dachel needs to read The Panic Virus by Seth Mnookin.

    November 8, 2011 at 22:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Jack

    If you want her input, I bet you can go to http://www.ageofautism.com...

    November 8, 2011 at 22:36 | Report abuse | Reply
    • knightforx

      Wow, I haven't laughed this hard in a long time! ROFLMAO

      November 9, 2011 at 03:34 | Report abuse |
  8. Captain Hindsight

    How can autism start in the womb if human life does not? Check out the CNN pole results on the front page.

    November 8, 2011 at 22:37 | Report abuse | Reply
    • kake79

      Well the good news for those people is that if a genetic marker is found that causes autism, then they can develop a test to perform early in pregnancy (like for Down Syndrome) and then just abort the baby – err – "fetus".

      November 8, 2011 at 23:03 | Report abuse |
    • Kieron Seymour-Howell (kieseyhow)

      You are either trolling, trying to start a fight, or to change the subject here.

      November 9, 2011 at 10:36 | Report abuse |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      "POLE results"? Really?

      Nobody has said life doesn't begin at conception. What they DO say is that rights don't begin until birth. And they're correct.

      November 9, 2011 at 21:50 | Report abuse |
  9. iamdeadlyserious

    Well who are people supposed to blame now?

    It's just plain un-American to not leave people with someone to blame.

    November 8, 2011 at 22:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Neuro

    We've known this for years...! Funny how the media will catch wind of a single study and decide to make a big deal out of it. In the realm of medical science, this is not new or surprising. The studies are there in large numbers. There is no controversy. Autism is, 99% of the time, an early fetal developmental disorder.

    November 8, 2011 at 22:42 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Sensible Aunt

      Agree! Much as Alzheimer's is a disease that 'shows' itself usually much later in life. Genes – abnormal or not – we're born with. What happens when interactions throughout our life take place varies from person to person. Acne develops as hormones change ... menopause occurs due to the same thing ... lifestyle may come into play with other conditions. It's what happens with the genes, body tissues/organs, etc., that make our lives what they become. Key word: become. Autism may be present in the womb, but may not be obvious until the child 'becomes' more mature (even in only 6-24 months). Alzheimer's may also follow that same development cycle, only not present itself until much later in life and after many more changes in the body. THIS research has potential. Vaccines ...... nah; not now. Let's pursue testing this theory a bit more. Perhaps a TEST (issued prior to birth) will be developed due to results versus waiting for another VACCINE (only administered after birth – and after the 'fact' of the apparent gene). I look forward to advanced research in this area.

      [btw, ms Anne needs to do a LOT more research before claiming to be an expert and issuing ancient, unproven suppositions into the community / population again. It's like the chain letter email that won't go away!]

      November 9, 2011 at 11:05 | Report abuse |
  11. emma

    Parents do not know if their children were born "healthy" – they just know they were acting as expected until a certain point. What triggers the inevitable? It could be developmental age, hormonal changes, growth rate, fever... the exact trigger of the neurological destiny is not known.

    Independent studies in every country that has tested has found no link between vaccines and autism. As many children who have never been vaccinated have been diagnosed with autism. There is no statistical difference in autism rates in children who have never received vaccinations.

    November 8, 2011 at 22:45 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Tom G

      This statement "There is no statistical difference in autism rates in children who have never received vaccinations" is false and very very harmfull. Autism has existed probably forever, but the explosive growth rate in full blown autism cases
      (from 1:10,000 in 1950 to 1:94 boys now) started in the late 1980's and perfectly correlates with the large jump in vaccination schedules. Do your research.
      Oh and by the way, the “CDC data set” containing millions and millions of vaccination records was “lost” during the investigation.
      Its amazing the strength and conviction of some of the opinions and judgements passed in these comments by adults not raising autistic children.

      November 9, 2011 at 14:57 | Report abuse |
    • Sydney

      The "explosive" jump also correlates perfectly to the increased awareness and ability to diagnose autism. That may or may not be the cause, but the vaccine theory is done. It isn't the cause. Let it go. It's time to move on with finding what is.

      One does not need to be raising an autistic child to understand basic science and the difference between correlation and causation.

      One would think that parents of autistic children, of all people, would be pushing for wide exploration of other possibilities so they can finally find the true cause. Continuing to believe the wrong information, in spite of reams of evidence to the contrary, serves no purpose for anyone but conspiracy websites. Most sadly, it's harmful to the children themselves, because finding the actual cause may lead to life-changing treatments.

      November 9, 2011 at 16:29 | Report abuse |
    • ImSoDone

      "finding a cause may lead to life-changing treatments"...or not. Has there ever been a cure for down syndrome? Is there a cure for muscular dystrophy? Has there been a cure discovered for cystic fibrosis? Maybe some people just have to realize they can only seek support and must play the hand they were dealt.

      November 9, 2011 at 20:36 | Report abuse |
    • Alana

      Tom, Thank you! I sat here and read line after line. Post after post of people ranting and accusing and trying to tell each other why this does or does not happen. Then I read from numerous posts how Vaccines do not cause Autism! First of all I have a 10 yr old Autistic son, who is for the most part non verbal. I live this heartbreak daily. I am one of the believers that Vaccinnes did play a role in his Autism. He was doing things normally. Talking, eye contact interacting ......then BAM, the shots happened at 15 months and by 18 months he had sunk into a world of his own. My mom and I worked hard to pull him back and have made great strides but in my heart I know that Vaccinnes did play a role in his decline. They may not be the only the factor and maybe there are many different causes based on a childs genetic structure. Who knows?? But telling those of us who watched our children sink down into this darkness after the MMR shot that contained the Thimerosol and knowing that too many shots were given too close together supports my theory that it had to play a part in it. My prayer is that all people who suffer with Autism and the parents have God to give them strength through our journey and please bless and heal our children!!

      November 9, 2011 at 21:15 | Report abuse |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Just because something occurred after an event does not mean the event was the cause. Symptoms of autism tend to show up at about the same time children get vaccinated. That doesn't mean they caused it.

      How do you explain the fact that children who aren't vaccinated also have autism?

      November 9, 2011 at 21:44 | Report abuse |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      You can believe whatever you want. The fact is that simply because something occurs after a particular event, it does NOT automatically follow that one causes the other.

      But do go right ahead and continue to focus on "vaccinnes". Your "theory" is nothing but a belief, and has no basis in fact. Scientific evidence does not support any part of your "theory".

      November 10, 2011 at 19:21 | Report abuse |
    • bepatienz

      Alana, it's easy to become confused when you're under stress. The MMR vaccine never contained thimerosal, a preservative which would inactivate the live viruses in that vaccine. The removal of thimerosal from pediatric vaccine schedules in various countries has been routinely followed by continuing increases in the prevalence of ASD. "Too many too soon" is a construct of those who watched both of their mutually-exclusive hypotheses of "MMR caused an epidemic of ASD" and "thimerosal-containing vaccines caused an epidemic of ASD" go poof.

      The best news for you from this study is that, while children with ASD are born with too many neurons and thus too many (and necessarily abnormal) neural connections that cause changes that only become apparent months later (such as brain overgrowth and regression), Courchesne (who recovered from polio) believes that appropriate early intervention can indeed help overcome this problem for many children.

      November 10, 2011 at 19:47 | Report abuse |
    • Spacetime

      I would be willing to bet that if you look at the APA criteria for autism in the early 80s, you would see that they changed the it around that time to include more symptoms. Correlation does not equal causation.

      November 10, 2011 at 08:53 | Report abuse |
    • SixDegrees

      There has also been an increase in the number of parents pushing for a diagnosis of autism. Jenny McCarthy, for example, infamously spouted off about how vaccines caused her son's autism for years, despite mountains of evidence against her, and the fact that HER SON WASN'T AUTISTIC AT ALL, but she clutch onto the diagnosis and simply stopped seeing doctors who told her there was some other problem.

      November 10, 2011 at 15:32 | Report abuse |
    • SPJ

      TomG, the research studies do indeed state that there is no significant difference between vaccinated and unvaccinated populations. It's there, hard data, peer reviewed, published. International data set. Not "lost", not misplaced, just right there in black and white.

      An increase in diagnosis is not the same as an increase in the disease. It is a reclassification of children who would earlier have been classified as having some other disorder – mental retardation, etc.

      PS. I am raising an autistic son and come from a country on a continent in which vaccinations are a luxury, but autism is found in all populations – even those who rarely see an antibiotic or multivitamin much less a vaccination for an illness. Our autism percentage in the studied population is equal to those countries who vaccinate all their children.

      The real danger is in those who read propaganda and do not know how to critically evaluate it, yet disseminate it as if it were scientific fact.

      November 10, 2011 at 09:43 | Report abuse |
    • Rockian

      My son has autism and had the same spectrum of vaccines that I did. I don't have autism. The only research that has EVER linked autism to vaccines has been shown to be a forgery. Many studies have been done since and have not shown a link to vaccines.

      Then increased number of brain cells shown in this research does make sense. Yes, it's a very, very, very small study, but it's a step in the right direction.

      I don't think the number of cases has risen since the 1980's, it's the number of diagnoses that has risen. This is due to improvements in detecting autism and ASD.

      November 10, 2011 at 10:49 | Report abuse |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      One doesn't have to have a disorder or a child with one to understand what research has already proven.

      Vaccines don't cause autism.

      November 10, 2011 at 19:25 | Report abuse |
  12. Mjacks

    There is a commonality within so many of the posts...instead of labeling it "vaccines" how about more generally "heavy metals." We are exposed through so many sources: vaccines, polluted water, polluted air, impacted food supply. Could it be that our body is overloaded with these toxins? Also, check how aspartame/NutraSweet (known neurotoxin) makes our bodies actually more susceptible to heavy metal poisoning.

    November 8, 2011 at 22:46 | Report abuse | Reply
    • kake79

      Guess what? If we were overloaded with heavy metals, a simple blood test would show it.

      November 8, 2011 at 23:04 | Report abuse |
    • Anonymous

      The exposure to heavy metals is much greater in many third-world countries. For that matter, even in what are today "developed" countries, heavy metal exposure was in the past very high in some cases (hatters were mad for a reason). Yet there was nothing even approaching the prevalence of autism today in our past, nor is there any equivalent in poor parts of the world where children literally pick through slag piles. The removal of thimerosal from vaccines caused no change in the rate of increase of autism diagnoses; instead of plummeting, they have continued to rise.

      It would be great if it was that easy, because heavy metal poisoning is something we know how to address. But it isn't.

      November 9, 2011 at 02:11 | Report abuse |
    • Kieron Seymour-Howell (kieseyhow)

      Yes, you are correct. The commonality is that people are ignorant and grossly uninformed about things that interest them. Unfortunately this ignorance spills over into almost every aspect of modern society...

      November 9, 2011 at 10:39 | Report abuse |
    • Sensible Aunt

      If your supposition / theory is true, we'd ALL have autism at this point.

      November 9, 2011 at 11:09 | Report abuse |
    • Sydney

      Wow – flashback. You do know.the aspartame "toxicity" legend has been floating around the internet in ever-evolving slightly different versions roughly since the start OF the internet, right? I was getting chain emails about that 20 years ago.

      C'mon people, let's all try to post only the current wildly wrong information, not recycle the old stuff.

      November 9, 2011 at 16:38 | Report abuse |
  13. emma

    You mean get even more serious than cutting edge scientific research? Like what? What is more serious than departments dedicated to researching nothing but neurological disorders?

    November 8, 2011 at 22:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. emma

    You mean "disproved" – not denied.

    November 8, 2011 at 22:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Dr. Stilson

    OF course Autism starts in the womb. Autism has accelerated due to mothers stress at their jobs. Ever since the two parents working to support the home increased, autism has increased. There is a measurable biological shift due to stress in the body. That added stress of work and hectic homelife during pregnancy changes the chemical balance in the whole body and the baby suffers. That's been known for a very long time. Researchers miss the obvious. Rapid breathing due to stress is the catalystm that changes a mothers chemical balance, but most doctors pupu that as the cause because the innovation inside a doctor, one who'se spent years only memorizing, is lacking.

    November 8, 2011 at 22:48 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Gretta

      Hmm, that's true... I've never once read of a non-working mother with an autistic baby. You're definitely on to something.

      November 8, 2011 at 22:50 | Report abuse |
    • Mjacks

      that is moronic. blame it on a mom's stress?!? i had a pile of stress between working 50+ hours a week for a failing company while going to law school through 2 pregnancies. guess what – my kids are not autistic. my calm, healthy wonderful stay-at-home mom friends DO have autistic children. go back to the drawing board traditionalist.

      November 8, 2011 at 22:53 | Report abuse |
    • ryan

      Following this logic Autism must have been extremely prevalent when we (humans) were all under the constant threat of wild animal attacks, starvation, war, etc., etc., etc.

      Keep looking.

      November 8, 2011 at 22:54 | Report abuse |
    • Maurine meleck

      Mothers didn't have stress before 1990's when autism numbers really took off? I think watching too much Sponge Bob is a better alternative than stressed out mothers.

      November 8, 2011 at 22:57 | Report abuse |
    • mxh

      Stay-at-home moms don't have any stress? A lot of people would beg to differ. Also, ever since China has started mass producing things in the US, Autism rates have risen, maybe it's Chinese products. Or, ever since cell phones started being used, Autism rates have risen, maybe it's cell phones. Or ever since CNN started broadcasting, Autism rates have increased, maybe it's CNN. Correlations, without evidence to back them, don't mean anything and as a "Dr." you should know better.

      November 8, 2011 at 23:06 | Report abuse |
    • Al

      doctors pupu that because they can think of a million reasons why that's ridiculous (ryans prediction is also 100% correct if this were true). the studies have been done trying to link autism with social and economic status, employment etc, children of parents who work are no more likely to have autism that those of parents who don't

      November 8, 2011 at 23:09 | Report abuse |
    • Felix

      Something tells me that you can't back up the two letters you've put in front of your name there, sport.

      November 8, 2011 at 23:11 | Report abuse |
    • Lloyd

      hmmm.....a "doctor" who can't spell "poo".

      November 8, 2011 at 23:15 | Report abuse |
    • massbytes

      Utter BS. My wife was not working a job when she conceived, was pregnant with, or delivered our son with autism. However, four years earlier she was working outside the home when she gave birth to my first son who went on to graduate early from college with masters in electrical engineering. Got another foolish theory? How about sunspots?

      November 8, 2011 at 23:26 | Report abuse |
    • bluesky

      So working mothers are stressed and stay-at-home mothers are not? Interesting.... As a mother (4 grown children) who at different times during raising children stayed at home full time, worked part time and worked full time, I can tell you that every arrangement has its own stresses and challenges. Stop blaming the moms.

      November 8, 2011 at 23:35 | Report abuse |
    • Willow

      Let me guess, you're also a Christian conservative who thinks all women should marry at 18, stay home all their lives, and do nothing but cook and clean?

      Go s***k an egg.

      November 8, 2011 at 23:44 | Report abuse |
    • Pix

      OMG, I thought your post was a joke! But the more I read it the more I couldn't believe how moronic you are. Or maybe you forgot your meds tonight? Ah ah ah

      November 9, 2011 at 00:30 | Report abuse |
    • Anonymous

      So by that logic, the rates of autism should skyrocket in places like Iraq and Somalia, and they should be zero for stay-at-home mothers. Let's see if that's true ... hm, no, it doesn't seem to be. So much for that attempt at thrusting a social goal into a scientific discussion.

      (and if you think working for some random company is stressful today, it doesn't come close to the stress a medieval peasant mother faced, ranging from the probability of dying in childbirth to the uncertainty of whether her family would have enough food to live on ... now THAT'S stress ... but it did not seem to be connected with autism)

      November 9, 2011 at 02:16 | Report abuse |
    • Activist-At-Heart

      Most doctors, are morons, lazy, ignorant, and only regurgitate memorized data, often incorrectly. Actually like almost everyone else in every job, they do it badly. I would say, based upon personal observation, that 80% or more of anyone is utterly incompetent at their job. Autism is genetic, blame the parents. Pollution and exposure is also lack of care, blame the parents. People will rarely accept responsibility for anything because they are, well irresponsible. Autistic people are generally more intelligent, creative, and though not able to communicate with "normal" people, they are not morons, like normal people. Why would we WANT to communicate with regular people anyhow. Almost everyone who actually contributes to society is not normal, or a moron like 80% of the population, aside from the evil geniuses... lol I say that most of the problems, in medication, pollution, bad parenting, environment is caused by the worker bees, that 80%, the morons. The innovations, the inventions, the advancements, the evolution of thought and culture and science are caused or manifested by people with so called "mental problems" such as autistic, schizophrenic or other such branded people. So, "normal" people, shut the hell up, if it were not for us, you would still be living in caves and chewing on raw meat.

      November 9, 2011 at 09:39 | Report abuse |
    • Lorelei

      "Dr.", Thanks for the laugh. I really needed it to de-stress. Now I'm going to go back to work for the next 3 months and wait for my autistic baby to arrive.

      December 8, 2011 at 15:25 | Report abuse |
  16. Maurine meleck

    Come on–a study with a few deceased children–of all different ages. How do we know it happens before they are born?
    An earlier 2003 study states that the large headsize growth occurs in the first year of life-not before birth . Qui, Quo and Qua(who did this study here) are simply desp[erate for material that will forever exonerate vaccines as a cause. We don't buy it. The huge perdentage of parents concerned about vaccine safety won't buy it either. Maybe they should stick to their freeway theory. Maurine Meleck, SC

    November 8, 2011 at 22:54 | Report abuse | Reply
    • MB Sturb

      Why don't you come and speak to the thousands of parents of children who have not been vaccinated and still have autism? What excuse will you give us?

      November 8, 2011 at 22:58 | Report abuse |
    • kake79

      Hey, Maurine. If you don't want to vaccinate your kids, that's your perogative. But 1) do NOT allow your children to ever be near a baby that is too young to have been vaccincated yet (in other words, keep your germ-harborers locked up) and 2) do not come crying when your children die of preventable illnesses.

      November 8, 2011 at 23:07 | Report abuse |
    • Al

      more children are dying today from diseases like whooping cough, measles and mumps than a few years ago because of this kind of nonsense about a link between vaccines and autism. these diseases can be prevented by vaccination and it's a tragedy that kids are dying because their parents are misinformed

      November 8, 2011 at 23:12 | Report abuse |
    • Vidhya

      Maurine, the point you are missing is that it is not just brain mass, these researchers found that the number of neurons was higher in the prefrontal cortex. Our brains continue to grow after we're born, however the number of neurons does not change (except in the two areas noted in the article). Our brains continue to grow synapses and support cells over our life span. The cells in the prefrontal cortex only develop during prenatal gestation. If the number is higher than that is the point in time where they developed. If you re-read the article you will also notice that they mentioned brain mass separate from the number of neurons. Brain mass is not tied solely to the number of neurons and that is the key point here.

      November 9, 2011 at 01:59 | Report abuse |
  17. Kate

    Emma, when she says "get serious about autism" I think she means "pander to her conspiracy theory ranting that has no basis in reality or science."

    November 8, 2011 at 22:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. ripvanwillie

    I am no medical expert by any means so please excuse my lack of understanding. If the body is growing excessive brain cells which are not capable of normal behavior, wouldn't this be considered a form of cancer?

    November 8, 2011 at 23:06 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Al

      good question, the difference is that in this study the excess cells are not continuing to grow and proliferate. during development there are periods of cell growth and proliferation to go from a few embryonic cells to the number that is needed in a mature adult, and then in some tissues like the brain, the cells stop proliferating (mostly). so these excess cells likely arose during this period of development and will not continue to grow produce more cells. whereas cancer cells continuously grow and proliferate uncontrollably

      November 8, 2011 at 23:18 | Report abuse |
  19. zeke2112

    Anne, give it up. Vaccines have not been shown to have any causality with respect to autism by numerous studies.

    Go hawk your website and your misinformation elsewhere.

    November 8, 2011 at 23:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. O.Elgebal

    Most children with Autism were normal up to a certain age, mostly up to the age of 14 to 16 months then all of a sudden after a dose of vaccine they turned from being normal children to Autistic. The bottom line is that they trying to cover up the crimes committed by these pharmaceutical companies, I mean the government in particular is covering up these crimes because these companies will shut down if they get sued by the people of the world, not only the victims in the USA.

    November 8, 2011 at 23:12 | Report abuse | Reply
    • andres

      In spite of all of the best science you are going to stick to the vaccine story. The inept doctor who started the whole thing and then attempted to ride it to riches has done more damage and folks like you have unneccissarily impeded the science needed to find the real culprit. Get off of that dead horse and start looking for the real cause.

      November 8, 2011 at 23:19 | Report abuse |
    • Felix

      A dose of vaccine? God, you sound stupid.

      November 8, 2011 at 23:20 | Report abuse |
    • Al

      not to mention all that doctors credentials have been revoked after he admitted to making up the data for his "study" that vaccines are linked to autism

      November 8, 2011 at 23:22 | Report abuse |
    • Anonymous

      Except that those children were NOT normal. Studies videotaping children, then comparing the ones who later developed autism to ones who did not, show that there were differences at an extremely early age.

      November 9, 2011 at 02:20 | Report abuse |
    • Kieron Seymour-Howell (kieseyhow)

      O.Elgebal said "Most children with Autism were normal up to a certain age, mostly up to the age of 14 to 16 months then all of a sudden after a dose of vaccine they turned from being normal children to Autistic."

      I reply: That is because the autism is still developing and only manifests beyond the point of not deniability by the average ignorant parent at the same time frame in the child's developmental stage of life. Coincidentally you could also say that the vaccine's cause the child to stand, learn spatial coordination, or eat solid food. You could make equally ignorant statements about thousands of unrelated issues in every day life.

      O.Elgebal said "The bottom line is that they (are) trying to cover up the crimes committed by these pharmaceutical companies, I mean the government in particular is covering up these crimes because these companies will shut down if they get sued by the people of the world..."

      I reply: These companies are aided by the government and supported by the government for their crimes. The government is hardly covering anything up, if anything they are empowering them all the more. You are just looking for someone to blame due to your lack of ability to rationalize and think coherently on an analytic level. The statistics and research is clearly showing that the blame is mostly genetic, secondly environmental and thirdly greater awareness and higher numbers of diagnosis.

      November 9, 2011 at 10:58 | Report abuse |
  21. W Hobson

    My husband, 2 stepsons and our 10 year old son, all are on the spectrum. I would have to lean towards a genetic link, more than anything. To the person who suggested its because of working mothers...that's a crock!!!! ASPIES RULE!!!! I would not change one thing about my guys!!!!

    November 8, 2011 at 23:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. massbytes

    I have a 27 year-old son with autism who is non-verbal. My wife and I knew there was something different about him from our previous two children almost from the time of his birth. He didn't make eye contact, he was very content without human contact, he rarely cried and other behaviors that became more obvious until he was diagnosed at 18 months. Vaccines were not involved. Your pushing of a dis-credited "vaccine theory" is hurting all of us who are trying to figure how this happened to us. Please stop. This is difficult enough without conspiracy theories.

    November 8, 2011 at 23:12 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Tannim

      Don't blame the vaccines or not. Exmaine what is actually in them, then cross-reference that with diet (his and yours) and other ingestions (air, water, other medications) and find the commonalities, and likely you'll find your cause.

      I feel for you, but I was ADHD before they knew what it was, and I was successfully treated by dietary means deades ago. Yet I still have to watch it because of that.

      November 9, 2011 at 10:53 | Report abuse |
    • insignificantScientist

      If only science was that easy...

      November 9, 2011 at 15:44 | Report abuse |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      I don't see anything in your posts that indicates you've been successfully treated for anything.

      November 10, 2011 at 21:50 | Report abuse |
    • Kieron Seymour-Howell (kieseyhow)

      Most likely, your son has capabilities that you are not even aware of. The majority of autistic people have some increased ability somewhere at the expense or communication or social interaction abilities. There has been significant strides in responses to severely autistic from use of computers and tablets and other data oriented devices. Just because they cannot does not mean they do not understand, and in many instances they have greater capacity for other spatial and mechanical or musical or artistic capabilities than average people.

      November 9, 2011 at 12:05 | Report abuse |
  23. andres

    Boy that has got to pi ss off the anti vaccine folks doesn't it?

    November 8, 2011 at 23:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Jane Moffatt

    I was just reading that there are more neurons in the gut than in the brain. So maybe a retrovirus establishes itself in the gut and closes down the immune system the way people with hiv have immune system problems.Maybe the retrovirus is latent or even active in the mother and is passed to baby and the vaccine turns on the virus where it starts getting charge of the gut. the gut controls the immune system.

    November 8, 2011 at 23:16 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Al

      the gut has the most neuronal innervation of any system OUTSIDE of the central nervous system, it does not have more neurons than the brain. most retroviruses do not disrupt the immune system. vaccines don't turn on viruses. the gut does not control the immune system.

      November 8, 2011 at 23:37 | Report abuse |
    • Al

      new ideas are always a step in the right direction though 🙂

      November 8, 2011 at 23:38 | Report abuse |
  25. pazke

    Ann, go away.

    November 8, 2011 at 23:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. WhackyWaco

    But, did this happen at the time of conception or later as the fetus developed in the womb?

    November 8, 2011 at 23:29 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Al

      later. there are no neurons at conception 🙂

      November 8, 2011 at 23:32 | Report abuse |
  27. Misha

    How exactly do you explain unvaccinated children being diagnosed with autism.

    November 8, 2011 at 23:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Jay

    As someone with Asperger's Syndrome (or GIFT as I like to call it), I am glad this research is really starting to reveal these things, but I also want all you NT's to know, this isn't a "disorder" as more or less who we are and how we look at things. I'd rather be an Aspie and be who I am than have put up with psychologists trying to "convert" you into something you aren't...remember, from our point of view it isn't as bad as this article makes it out to be!

    November 8, 2011 at 23:39 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Sarah

      I am happy for you,it isn't that bad, but as a family member with a child with SEVERE autism, who is totally non-verbal, and who cant read, write, or ever be able to live on his own, it is bad. It is a spectrum and luckily you are on the better end of it. And by definition it IS a disorder (a psychological or behavioral pattern associated with distress or disability that occurs in an individual and is not a part of normal development or culture) but I am happy you live a life that is pleasing to you.

      November 8, 2011 at 23:49 | Report abuse |
  29. Al

    brain development continues after birth. that means a problem could arise at 1,2,3, etc years of age in a child who was "normal" before then and does not mean vacinnes cause autism

    November 8, 2011 at 23:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Sylvestor Johnson


    November 9, 2011 at 00:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. mahdeealoo

    The one physical symptom that my grandson displayed at 2 days old was the rigid and then relaxed body that is common in autism. At the time, I did not know what was going on. His mother, eating organic, no sugar, no alcohol, no drugs; prescription or otherwise, nothing louder than harp and classical music and 22 years since any immunizations. To me, the correlation of a virus or DNA defect might be closer to the truth in what causes autism. It is amazing to already find a plethora of maladies caused by lowly viruses, this may be another. Hope the answer comes soon and that their is a "cure". It is extremely hard to live with and demands constant vigilance and attention in even the milder cases.

    November 9, 2011 at 00:05 | Report abuse | Reply
    • mahdeealoo

      The birth was also unmedicated – natural.

      November 9, 2011 at 00:13 | Report abuse |
  32. Curious

    Why not too many early ultrasounds? Ultrasounds are not recommended on babies until week 16/20, yet when there are problems with the pregnancies, young fetus' are exposed to that heavy radiation often multiple times. Couldnt that cause a surplus of cells/deformities of cells as the brain is developing?
    Even if you studied this possibility, it could just say that something was already wrong, and that caused the need for multiple early ultrasounds, but in my thoughts this kind of makes sense...Any ideas?

    November 9, 2011 at 00:11 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Medical Student

      you DO realize ultrasound has absolutely 0 radiation.......

      November 9, 2011 at 00:23 | Report abuse |
    • Ultrasounds?

      My understanding is that ultrasounds don't use radiation, but MRI's do. The intense heat and pressure associated with ultrasounds is what increases their risk of miscarriage.

      November 9, 2011 at 00:48 | Report abuse |
    • sc

      I have been wondering why no one seems to question ultrasounds, especially in early pregnancy. It isn't radiation, but something is bombarding the developing brain. If whatever it is hits a vulnerable brain at the wrong moment in time, it makes sense that this could damage something. People started using ultrasounds multiple times during pregnancies about 20 years ago, and the incidence of autism has been growing quickly over the past 20 years. Doesn't anyone else see this correlation?

      November 9, 2011 at 01:24 | Report abuse |
    • CA

      MRIs do not use radiation either. CT scans are the ones that emit radiation.

      November 9, 2011 at 01:53 | Report abuse |
    • Vidhya

      The issue to keep in mind though is that correlation does not necessarily equal causation. Lets assume that ultrasounds were the sole cause of autism. Then in theory there should be no autistic children born in countries without (or limited) ultrasounds. There are many areas in the world where an ultrasound is simply not available to segments of the population, however despite this fact they are still producing autistic children. This would then rule out ultrasounds as the sole cause. The same applies to vaccines. If vaccines caused autism then non-vaccinated children should be autism-free, and this is definitely not the case.

      November 9, 2011 at 02:10 | Report abuse |
    • Geraldine

      Very possible. One response mentioned autism in less developed countries with-out access to ultrasounds... WELL, autism has had it's greatest rate of growth (BY FAR) in developed countries. England and the United States have seen some of the greatest growth. England has a higher rate than the U.S. And with a socialized medical system in Europe, many more women have access to ultrasounds. Perhaps it is the exact position of the fetus, and it's frontal lobe at the time of the ultrasound? In the U.S. autism rates are higher in more affluent areas to boot. The sound waves(in the uterus) during an ultrasound are equivalent to that of a train pulling into a station... quite an assault on developing cells.

      November 9, 2011 at 04:32 | Report abuse |
    • Geraldine

      Check out Dr. Ursula Anderson on youtube.

      November 9, 2011 at 04:35 | Report abuse |
    • Kieron Seymour-Howell (kieseyhow)

      This is thinking outside the box; good! Ultrasound can be a very useful tool or it can be a very damaging tool. There are MANY uses for ultrasonic waves. They can cut, smash, heat, and move things quite effectively. There is no study that I am aware of that rules out this as a contributing factor. I still say that is is something else, but there should be a study done to explore this correlation. It may not cause it, or even really change the course dramatically, but it may contribute to borderline cases by doing something at a level no one is aware of.

      November 9, 2011 at 11:10 | Report abuse |
    • Sydney

      Ultrasound does not produce radiation. Ultrasound uses (drum roll here – this is going to be shocking)....sound. Sound waves are not harmful to the brains of humans or fetuses, or we all wouldn't last through our first thunderstorm or shouting match.

      Harmful to ears during a rock concert – that's another debate.

      November 9, 2011 at 16:48 | Report abuse |
  33. joe s.

    to all the lazy parents with autistic kids, you should have eaten better and exposed your fetuses to less environmental contaminates. my kids are healthy because i made sure my wife stayed away from too much seafood (mercury), deli meat, caffeine, alcohol, chemicals in sunscreen and makeup, etc. if all parents were as careful, i gurantee you autism rates would decline significantly. parents just dont care enough, and now they are paying for it.

    November 9, 2011 at 00:13 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Rosey

      While I agree that many, if not most, Americans need to lead a healthier lifestyle, your comment has no validity when it comes to autism. I eat my organic veggies and fruits. I make my own cleaners to stay away from unnecessary and unhealthy chemicals. I do not use skin products with dangerous ingredients. I could go on. However, my sweet son is still autistic. Please be more careful before accusing others of not being as good as you.

      November 9, 2011 at 01:07 | Report abuse |
    • Rocksor

      TO Joe Schmoe,

      I bet you'll have grand kids with ASD.

      November 9, 2011 at 09:26 | Report abuse |
    • Billie

      Judgmental much? My grandfather also had it, who was born and raised on a farm when pollution and mercury, etc. weren't such a problem. Now my father, my son and another family member have austim spectrum disorders. It's already proven to run in families, meaning there is a genetic component.

      November 9, 2011 at 17:37 | Report abuse |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      What an irresponsible, ignorant, disgusting comment. Go blow, joe.

      November 9, 2011 at 21:55 | Report abuse |
  34. AK

    A dumb quesion. If autistic children have too many brain cells produced during pregnancy, does that mean engaging in activities that kill brain cells would reverse autism?

    November 9, 2011 at 00:28 | Report abuse | Reply
    • JaneWhite

      That's a really good "dumb" question! The problem is, you have to kill the right brain cells, not just random ones.

      We don't understand everything about how the brain grows, but we know this much: In early childhood, lots of brain cells grow. As the brain matures, the ones that are less needed die off. So too many cells can actually be a sign of immaturity.

      November 9, 2011 at 01:19 | Report abuse |
    • Vidhya

      Actually Jane our brain cells do not die as we mature. Our brain goes through periods of synaptogenesis and synaptic pruning. These are the connections between cells. As our brains mature they may indeed prune off unneeded synpases, but this does not result in the neurons themselves dying. Our brain mass can change dramatically from synaptogenesis but the number of cells themselves seldom changes.

      November 9, 2011 at 02:13 | Report abuse |
    • Al

      Great question. As JaneWhite explained, we initially develope more neurons than we end up with, and then many of them die off during prenatal development (people have compared brain development to carving a sculpture where you start with everything you need and then get rid of the excess). It has been hypothesized for a few years now that some cases of autism may result from failure to get rid of the extra cells, and this study seems to be consistent with that idea.

      November 9, 2011 at 10:31 | Report abuse |
  35. Mrs Marvel

    It's called evolution. The random mutation of genes is RANDOM, therefore yes, we can believe that brain abnormalities occur randomly. Believe it or not, people get cancer randomly too. There is no defined cause for that either. How about the randomness of one person having a cold while walking through a crowd and some people get the cold and others do not? Life is random more than it is predictable. What kind of doctor are you anyway?

    November 9, 2011 at 00:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. beth s

    As a mom to three sons with asperger's syndrome i believe you have to be aware of you child to know when his behaviors etc don't appear to be so-called 'normal'. i truly think some of the upswing in the number of kids with autism is the fact the parents and docters are more aware of the symptoms than they were ten or more years ago. the stigma associated with it isn't as horrifying as it used to be and people are more open about it.

    November 9, 2011 at 00:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. Rachael


    November 9, 2011 at 00:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. Medical Student

    Just thought I'd add some info here since there's a lot of MISinformation going around (especially from the anti-vaccine cult)

    Right now, there are MANY possible causes of autism, and in fact there might be more than 1 trigger or primary cause.

    A lot of the research points to some common areas:

    1. Genetics – although autism does not have 100% heritability OR penetrance, which basically means that genetics explain some portion of autism but there's something else going on. Also genes associated with autism are pretty broad. The inheritance is complex and not Mendelian (Mendalian inheritance would be similar to something like hair – brown is dominant, blonde is recessive, etc). Most likely certain genes PREDISPOSE children to autism but don't guarantee it. But there is definitely some genetic component to it.

    2. Dopamine pathways – dopamine is a common neurotransmitter in the brain. MANY disorders have recently been tied to common dopamine pathways, such as schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorder, actually the list is quite huge. It's pretty surprising that so many mental health disorders in existence have defects in these same pathways, and yet manifest themselves so differently. But anyway, autism has shown defects in dopamine signaling pathways as well. There is a good chance we will find commonalities in the pathophysiology of autism and other mental health disorders in years to come

    3. Age of Parents – this is something the media seems to have overlooked when reporting on causes of autism (but then again mainstream media overlooks a lot of things when reporting on original research in general). Other disorders such as down syndrome have strong positive correlations with age of the parents. Autism seems to as well, although not as strong as downs, the correlation is still there. Both maternal and paternal age of the child's parents at conception are correlated with autism rates. This is likely why autism is statistically a disorder of white, middle class, educated parents. All 3 of those demographics are more likely to put off having children until a later age (myself included). People with careers and higher education (college and beyond) are more likely to have children after 30 and this correlates with higher rates of autism. This often points to biological mechanisms involving an aggregate of germline genetic defects (which are far more pronounced in women who do not regenerate their "eggs" but are born with 1 supply)

    4. Viruses, Autoimmune Disease, etc – Viruses have been implicated in seemingly unrelated diseases as of late. It's been well known EBV can cause Burkitt's Lymphoma, as well as CMV and HHV-8 (which can also cause Kaposi's sarcoma). Viruses may also trigger auto-immune responses (as is likely the case in multiple sclerosis). Bacterial infections have also been implicated in autoimmune triggers (strep pharyngitis causing rheumatic diseases for instance). It is possible that a viral, bacterial, or autoimmune process could be involved here, although the evidence is unclear at this point still to my knowledge.

    5. And this article – increased neuronal cell count – this is puzzling indeed. The finding raises many questions. Do the parents show evidence of increased neurons as well in similar anatomical/functional regions? If so this could lead towards evidence for a genetic additive effect (more genes promoting neuronal growth leads to more likelihood of disease). Or could this growth be along a similar mechanism as neoplastic diseases, suggesting oncogenes, tumor suppressor genes may be involved, in which case yes a viral cause could make sense. Many viruses break open the host's DNA to replicate it's own genetic material (DNA/RNA). Most commonly, without getting into specifics of the mechanism as it would take too long to explain, the virus can use host DNA as a sort of scaffolding, and it borrows host proteins to build it's own genetic material, which replicates billions of times to create incredible amounts of virus inside a host. If the virus breaks something like a tumor suppressor gene, this can lead to increased cell growth. It's POSSIBLE a virus breaks a gene controlling neuronal cell growth in fetal development which leads to excessive growth and loss of function.

    Things not implicated in autism:
    – Vaccines – absolutely no evidence for any vaccine. I repeat: ANY VACCINE. None. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Zippo. Zero. The Big O. Any number subtracted from itself. Zero. The confusion on this issue comes from a handful of fraudulent papers that were disseminated and published and have since been retracted, and the continued reporting by parents of "kids acting normal until after a vaccine". Thankfully, we have data now that DEFINITIVELY settles this issue – we have real world epidemiological studies, observational studies without using experimental manipulation that have tremendous external validity. We have seen in countries that have STOPPED using those vaccines which parents have claimed are around the time period of the first observed abnormalities, continue to show rising rates of autism. The rising rates are also increasing at the same rate, so stopping the vaccines (and preservatives such as thimerosal which is actually not dangerous mercury since it is conjugated but that's another story) had absolutely no effect. In fact all we're seeing now is a rise in infant mortality due to diseases like pertussis which kids simply should not be getting if the population was sufficiently vaccinated, and instead since vaccine rates have dropped, we have kids dying of completely preventable disease. Anyway long story short – the anti-vaccine cult has wasted precious research funding dollars on this goose chase, and they've directly lead to the spread of anti-vaccine propaganda and misinformation that has increased disease rates. Not vaccinating your child for pertussis, MMR, etc is just irresponsible and is putting them at unnecessary risk. It has absolutely no effect on autism rates.

    I've saved this post and I add to it often when I see articles like this. I'm just trying to get some more accurate information out there in forums like this, where misinformation is spread so frequently.

    November 9, 2011 at 01:00 | Report abuse | Reply
    • BillRubin

      Thanks for bringing facts to the autism debate (which actually isn't much of a debate). Unfortunately, if you read some of the comments here, you will see that this is no place for facts nor reason. Many of the anti-vaccine crowd probably stopped reading your post once they realized you were disagreeing with them. If they did read it, they're probably thinking that you are part of some secret conspiracy.

      November 9, 2011 at 07:25 | Report abuse |
    • DR.D

      None of this is new or surprising. Read this reasearch article in the Journal of Neuroscience:
      The same MIA occurs with vaccinations of the mother during pregnancy.
      Wakeup everyone!! It's right there in front of us.

      November 9, 2011 at 08:34 | Report abuse |
    • Tannim

      And this is why you are only a medical student and have no idea beyond what the Allopathic community *wants* you to know.

      You completely ignored dietary issuses like excitotoxins (MSG is in processed foods AND vaccines and is known as causing neural synapse damage and death, including the dopamine receptors, and is linked to EO Alzheimers), which also include toxic metal poisoning (mercury, aluminum, excess levels of otehr metals as well). Not to mention the toxic sludge that makes up the adjuvatants and preservatives (totally unnecessary, use saline and refrigerate instead) in vaccines. (Do you even know how vaccines bypass the immune system and screw up thyroid production of T1, T2 and T3 hormones, repress the immune system, and cause problems? Probably not!)

      See, some of us in the real world who actually understand the holisitc interactions of the body, immune systems, endocrinology, gut flora, nutrition, biochemistry, and know how to do our own reserarch know better, because we've been there and done that. As such, we look at your allopathic narrow view with a very skeptical eye for anything beyond trauma cases. As such we tune our diets and lifestyles away from the things that harm us that the PTB in allopathy and government call "safe" or "GRAS".

      BTW, a vaccinated person can still carry and transmit the disease, virus, or bacterium that they are vaccinated against. All a vaccine does, when effective (which is less than people think due to improvements in hygiene and sanitation, plenty of causal studies on that out there ot read), is prevent those from affecting the vaccinated. Hence the "herd immunixation" argument is and always has been a myth.

      November 9, 2011 at 10:46 | Report abuse |
    • Kieron Seymour-Howell (kieseyhow)

      Great post. You have a lot of useful and interesting information there. This research needs to be carried on my people with creative open minds. However, it may be that the autistic spectrum people are the ones best suited to accomplish this and actually get results. 😛

      November 9, 2011 at 12:16 | Report abuse |
    • insignificantScientist

      Tannim, I wake up every morning happy, knowing that people like you dont conduct meaningful research. Save the preaching for your after-work activist meetings. Enjoy your "real world" and I'll enjoy my vaccinated one...

      Med student, great lit review. Although, I must say the dopamine evidence, while convenient given its implication in a variety of mental illnesses, is a bit soft. I'm not sure dompamine pathways can fully account for the range of behavioral symptoms seen in those diagnosed with ASD (to be fair, there is still a lot we dont know about dopaminergic pathways so time may tell a different story...).

      Also, I think the autoimmune hypothesis is intrigueing. There is some recent work that shows interesting brain-immune interactions that result in schizophrenia-like behaviors. More work is definitely needed to understand the nervous-immune system interactions as classically these two systems were viewed as almost wholly seperate.

      November 9, 2011 at 16:06 | Report abuse |
  39. Mommary

    What if autism is just a bridge in evolution, meant to take humanity to the next level of intelligence and competence? Many more brain cells indeed! Heavier brain weight and heightened senses. Interesting study.

    November 9, 2011 at 01:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. cb2305

    haha oh my this is such a dumb article. genetics have been shown to play a part in autism...so of course it starts in the womb

    November 9, 2011 at 01:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. JaneWhite

    I am so glad to read the comments on this post, and learn that most of you folks out there are on the sane side of the so-called vaccine safety debate! Congratulations, reason! And down with preventable diseases that can kill our babies!

    November 9, 2011 at 01:23 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son


      November 9, 2011 at 21:56 | Report abuse |
  42. Lanny

    I just read many responses. I have not cseen one that says this makes sense to explin savvants!

    November 9, 2011 at 01:42 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Kieron Seymour-Howell (kieseyhow)

      It is simple. More cells with more connections set up in random, or mostly random ways. Sometimes you get something good, and sometimes you do not. Take a bucket of paint and hurl it at a wall 50,000 times. You will be amazed to see that on occasion you will actually see recognizable images in the mess you make. Evolution is an interesting idea for the autism spectrum people. I am sure the first dinosaurs with feathers and wings were shunned by their peers *grins*

      Savants are nearly always better at something at a cost of something else. Autistic spectrum people are much the same. Most autistic spectrum people have increased abilities somewhere. Unfortunately, since autism generally affects communication and social skills in a negative aspect more than not, it is quite difficult for the average, less capable normal person, to see the pros from the cons. Many autistic spectrum people do not have the great need for socializing that "normal" people spend an inordinate amount of unproductive time doing. They focus on actually "doing" things like thinking, creating, and inventing.

      November 9, 2011 at 11:33 | Report abuse |
  43. mamasuki


    November 9, 2011 at 01:56 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Kieron Seymour-Howell (kieseyhow)

      Is it entirely possible that the state is affected or exasperated by a virus, many other conditions are related to some form or viral activity. It should not be ruled out.

      November 9, 2011 at 11:36 | Report abuse |
  44. burnx

    Anne McElroy Dachel, stop tryign to kill children please. I mean it. Idiots in developign countries will listen to this, and end up letting their children die from things like; polio, measles, rubella, Hep A + B (comes later). Why don't you go talk to Kent Hovind?

    November 9, 2011 at 03:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. joe s.

    stop eating crap and putting chemical crap on your skin when you're pregnant. enough said. if you get it still, then maybe its genetic, but it doubt it. and to that mother who said she ate good and did everrything right and still her kid got it, i doubt it. you're probably doing better now, but its too late. you reap what you sow. you might live in a crap city with pollution. thank the Republicans for that, and for your cloudy water

    November 9, 2011 at 03:36 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Kieron Seymour-Howell (kieseyhow)

      Whether or not the environmental aspects play a large part in autism spectrum or not is debatable, though undoubtedly it does not improve anything. However, the polluted and filthy urban environment, blatant ignorance, poor nutrition caused by criminal corporate marketing and completely ineffective government legislation, foolish lifestyle distractions, peer pressure on weak minds, addictive personality disorder in even weaker minds, and choosing ignorance over factual evidence, ALL have almost completely ruined the normal human condition and capability to deal with disease and illness.

      November 9, 2011 at 11:43 | Report abuse |
  46. Dave R

    Autism has only really been recognized as its own specific condition its specific traits for about the last 50 years. That’s pretty recent. The steep increase of diagnoses since then would have to be much more because of improvements in diagnosis, than there actually being more people who have it….

    November 9, 2011 at 03:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. mmi16

    Never let proven facts stand in the way of the 'truth'. Why would anyone want to confuse their thinking with facts.

    November 9, 2011 at 03:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. Sam

    distracting people from the possible causes of autism like the heavy metal and mercury compounds like thimerasol.

    November 9, 2011 at 04:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. jo

    if autusm is linked to too much brain cells is there a way to reduce the number of brain cells to cure autism?

    November 9, 2011 at 05:59 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Tannim

      Yes. They can become politicans and government bureaucrats, or lobbyists, or Big Phamra shills.

      November 9, 2011 at 10:49 | Report abuse |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Or crazies who think vaccines don't work. Like you, Tannin.

      November 9, 2011 at 21:58 | Report abuse |
    • SixDegrees

      At the moment, no, there is no way to regulate brain cell growth rates. If this research pans out in larger studies, that may be one avenue of research. Another would be to find out what is causing the surge in the first place, and attacking the problem on that front. Right now, though, this is just another small piece of fairly murky data. While it may be important, it shouldn't be weighed to heavily until more research is done.

      November 10, 2011 at 03:06 | Report abuse |
  50. naoma foreman

    I I heard this on CNN this morning and the "medical reporter" said that AUTISM BEGINS when the baby is in the Mother's
    BELLY. For goodness sake - my daughter at age 3 knew that the baby grows in the WOMB. Let us use the correct
    terms. Aren't we adult enough to say WOMB instead of BELLY.

    November 9, 2011 at 08:38 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Kieron Seymour-Howell (kieseyhow)

      YOU are to blame for this, and EVERYONE ELSE who voted with their emotions and with pop-culture and peer pressure instead of adequately researching and taking an interest in what your government is doing in regards to the education system. Now, shut up and accept responsibility for that and try to fix it in the future.

      November 9, 2011 at 11:46 | Report abuse |
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