Autism is an incredibly complex phenomenon. Amongst behavioral, developmental, and social challenges, people on the spectrum can also be subject to a host of other conditions and the same illnesses their neurotypical peers experience. Research surrounding autism tends to include any potential connections to other health-related inquiries and conditions. One such connection is that between autism and the immune system.
Autism is a range of neurodevelopmental conditions characterized by challenges with repetitive behaviors, speech, nonverbal communication and social skills. The immune system is considered all the bodily systems, cells, and tissues that protect the body from foreign substances and illness. The immune system includes your white blood cells and the organs and tissue that make up the lymph system. So, how are the two connected?
The Prenatal Immune System
A growing body of research suggests there may be a connection between the maternal immune system and the risk or likelihood of a child to be diagnosed with autism. Those studies suggest that women who have lupus or experience a heightened immune response during pregnancy demonstrated a higher risk of having their child diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
In that regard, the connection between autism and the immune system is one that is prenatal- occurring before birth. Women with autoimmune disorders also demonstrated a heightened risk of their child being diagnosed with ASD.
The Postnatal Immune System
When it comes to the postnatal connection, or the link between autism and the child’s own immune system after birth, children on the spectrum may experience more immune system irregularities.
This primarily means they may be more prone to certain illnesses or exposure to foreign bodies. However, the studies conducted thus far on the postnatal connection have produced much more ambiguous and inconclusive results due to the individual on the spectrum’s heterogeneity within their sample.
How to Navigate the Effects
Ultimately, the only thing that one can do to help their child’s immune system is to ensure they are taking the proper precautions to not get sick, such as:
- Bundling up or staying inside during inclement weather.
- Getting the right vaccinations and flu shots to build the immune system’s defenses.
- Defer to professional judgement from medical professionals when it comes to routine care and treatment.
- Practice proper hygiene and self-care while reducing exposure to potentially dangerous stimuli.
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