Autism and the Environment 101: Online Course 15

How Can Toxins Contribute to Autism?

Toxins and other environmental factors can contribute to autism at various points in development. Toxins don’t have to kill people or cells in their bodies; they can cause harm by changing how the brain and body develop and function.

Impacts on development:

  • If exposures occur before birth, they can affect the development of the brain and nervous system, as well as other systems of the body.
  • If exposures occur after birth, they can affect later stages of development.

Impacts on healthy functioning:

  • Exposures at any point can affect the health of the cells in our body.
    • Whole body: If toxins alter the health or function of our cells, this can lead to loss of health and development of disease.
    • Brain: If toxins alter the health or function of cells in our brains, the cells may not be able to work so well in helping us to use our brains.  Our brains may get more “irritable.” This can cause changes and problems in the way we
      • Think
      • Learn
      • Process sensory information
      • Sleep
      • Handle stress.

Toxins are a lifelong problem, not just a developmental problem. Many people with autism are very sensitive and reactive to exposures. They can have ups and downs that can be traced not just to stress but also to chemicals and allergens. This can cause problems way beyond the sensitive periods of brain development.



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