Alternative Causes

Page by Stephanie Watkins

Following Bernard Rimland’s rejection of the psychoanalytic model of autism in 1965 and the development of the neurodevelopmental theory, there was a tremendous rise in autism diagnoses in the 1990s (Baker, 2008). With this growth, a gap between the supply and demand for autistic services emerged and parents were often faced with waiting lists and unexperienced doctors. Frustration is what lead to the development of “alternative” theories of autism, incorporating various different etiologies in hope of a cure (Baker, 2008, p. 249). Parents believed that, with the proper tools and knowledge, their children could be treated and cured. Interestingly, Bernard Rimland himself was in full support of this notion and his idea was adapted into meaning not solely biological causes, but environmental as well. Despite the fact that individuals with autism rarely pass on their genes, all industrialized nations have seen a dramatic increase in autism over the past 25 years (Previc, 2007). Because of this fact, as well as various other commonalities among the autistic population relating to factors other than those of genes, many researchers have suggested an environmental component of the etiology of autism. Although it is evident that many of these alternative causes are valid for some children, they are not universal and applicable to all children diagnosed with autism.

Examples of alternative causes can be both prenatal (atypical brain development, dopamine, and parental age) as well as postnatal (vaccines, poor parenting, gluten/casein).


Baker, J. P. (2008). Mercury, vaccines, and autism: One controversy, three histories. American Journal of Public Health98(2), 244-253.

Previc, F. H. (2007). Prenatal influences on brain dopamine and their relevance to the rising incidence of autism. Medical Hypotheses, 68, 46-60.

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