Autism risk factors
There are a few known risk factors for autism such as:
Fragile X, a genetic disorder, results in autism around 40% of the time.
Congenital rubella syndrome, caused by the rubella virus, results in autism 7% of the time.
Mast cell disorders such as mastocytosis results in autism 10% of the time.
MCAS may be the biggest risk factor affecting 50% of autistic people
While mast cell disorders are rare (affecting only 1 in 4000), there is a newly discovered condition called mast cell activation syndrome (MCAS) that is similar to existing mast cell disorders with an estimated prevalence as high as 1 in 7. If 10% end up autistic, that would be 1 in 70 people which means a high percentage of those with autism may have MCAS.
What is MCAS?
Everyone has mast cells throughout their body. In those with MCAS, affected mast cells behave abnormally which causes a variety of symptoms depending on which mast cells are affected. If the mast cells in the brain are affected, it can cause mild brain inflammation which results in cognitive dysfunction.
How MCAS can lead to autism
Mild brain inflammation due to MCAS impairs nonverbal communication, can make a person socially awkward, and makes the world more confusing and harder to understand. To cope, some may insist on sameness or use rigid thinking patterns to try to make the world easier to understand. For example, someone may group people into two categories (“good” people and “bad” people), place overgeneralized labels on people (He’s dumb, I’m a failure, He’s a loser), or focus on negative things to avoid being harmed. The three rigid thinking patterns described above are known as black and white thinking, labeling, and mental filter. Although helpful initially to simplify things, they end up being unhelpful ways of thinking because they lead to a less than accurate perception of the world which results in misunderstandings that make it harder to understand other people. For example, focusing on negatives to protect oneself from being harmed can lead to forming negative opinions about other people which can cause a person to become depressed and have anxiety in social situations. Those who experience too many negative emotions may cope by suppressing their emotions and avoiding their problems.
Emotions based on accurate perceptions are very helpful because they alter how we think so we can change our behavior to improve our situation. For example, fear makes people more focused and alert so they can find a way out of a dangerous situation. Anger can give people the courage they need to stand up for someone being bullied.
Emotions based on inaccurate perceptions are harmful because they alter how a person thinks in ways that are unhelpful. For example, a belief that most people are judgmental can cause people to fear social situations which may result in them missing out on having friends. Anger over a perceived injustice can result in people yelling and saying mean things to others and losing a friendship or a job based on a misunderstanding.
Those who suppress their emotions will suffer from thoughts continuously impaired by those suppressed emotions. Those who've suppressed their emotions or had rigid thinking patterns from a very young age are likely to think they were born with a brain that was wired differently. Those who become aware of how their emotions affect their thinking and gather the courage to deal with them by evaluating and correcting any rigid thinking patterns that caused them may be amazed at how much their thinking improves and how much easier it is to understand other people. Some people may find that, while they still have autistic traits, they no longer meet the criteria for an autism spectrum condition. The medical community considers those who no longer meet the criteria to have recovered from autism even if the genetic aspects underlying their autistic traits aren’t affected.
An excellent video series that greatly helped me correct my rigid thinking patterns and understand people better can be found on YouTube at
While I'm still autistic in the sense that I still have autistic traits and have not lost any positive aspects of being autistic, I no longer need support or help understanding people which means I no longer meet the DSM-V criteria for autism. The best benefit I received from watching those videos and changing the way I think is that now that my emotions aren't affecting the way I think I can finally be myself.
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