Examining theories on the cause of autism
(based mainly on what I know about two generations of my family, where autism has occurred.)

There is an usually high incidence of autism in my family, one brother and four of my five children are affected in varying degrees. The 60 minutes program in Australia and also probably in the USA and elsewhere have made a lot out of the fact that the MMR is causing an alarming rise in the rate of autism. There are plenty of unhappy people wanting compensation because they say that the MMR vaccine has caused autism in their previously normal children. I contacted the Parramatta City Council in New South Wales, Australia and asked them to give me the low-down on the vaccinations which were given to my oldest child. She is autistic and was born in 1980.

Here is the schedule:

At 2 months:  1st Triple Antigen (Diphtheria, Tetanus, Whooping Cough)
1st dose of Sabin Oral Vaccine (Poliomyelitis)

4 months:  2nd Triple Antigen (Diphtheria, Tetanus, Whooping Cough)
2nd dose of Sabin Oral Vaccine (poliomyelitis)

6 Months:  3rd Triple Antigen (Diphtheria, Tetanus, Whooping cough)
3rd dose of Sabin Oral Vaccine (Poliomyelitis)

12 months:  Measles

(The combined measles/mumps/rubella vaccine (MMR) was
not administered at that time in Australia.)

My oldest child and my late brother never received the MMR vaccine.

18 months: Booster combined Diphtheria and Tetanus (C.D.T.)

I observed my oldest child when she was around 11 to 12 months one day at a play group and I remember thinking that something was very wrong and as I watched her, I then knew what it was and what its name was: autism. My very autistic and very retarded brother was born when I was eight years old; so I was well acquainted with the symptoms of autism. A friend of mine (a Catholic priest) heard a radio broadcast on the symptoms of autism and then went into the nursery to study his six month old nephew. He worked out the child had autism. This proved to be correct.

When my late brother was born (in 1965) the mothers of autistic children were labeled as "refrigerator mothers" which means that they were cold, unloving and uncaring mothers. If the refrigerator mother theory is valid, which it isn't, the mothers of more than one autistic child (of which their are many, including me, would qualify as very bad mothers indeed.) The people, who know me, do not consider me to be cold and uncaring! One woman told me she worked for a long day care centre and that all the fathers of a particular ethnic group were drunks and that it was no wonder that their kids were autistic. I don't drink and neither does my husband and further more I don't smoke and neither does my husband. My question is when did these unfortunate dads become drunks before or after their kids were diagnosed with autism and they had to live with all that pain?

Another lady said that her great-nephew was diagnosed as autistic and it was later found out to be a terrible mistake because after all her niece was a "brilliant lady doctor" and could not possibly produce such a child! This charming statement was made straight after I told her that four of my five children were autistic and in front of my former employer!  My husband happens to be a scientist! Watching to much television is supposed to cause a rise in autism. I believe that it is fair to say that autism was around long before television was ever invented! The former deputy Prime Minister of Australia has two sons and one of them is autistic. This is amazing in view of the statement of the lady whose niece is a "brilliant lady doctor" isn't it? One mind blowing comment made to me was the following: “Autism, my friend told me, that is when the child is selfish.”

The reasons for autism are a mystery, one which we would all like to solve without cracking up. Pray for guidance and strength. Don't fall for any old theory such as the MMR vaccines or an allergy to some exotic food causing autism. Autism is a tricky business to work out otherwise we would have done so by now. All though my childhood I heard the statement from my mother "It has never happened in this family before (autism)." The implication is that it can't be hereditary. Well it has now clearly happened in two generations!  But I still hear the parents of autistic children making the same statement as my mother. Remember hereditary troubles have to start in a particular generation. (The generation you are in may be the start of the chain).  If this is so there may be future generations of your family with the particular problem. Perhaps sometimes a genetic/hereditary problem may have skipped several generations until all memory of it is erased from the current generation and it looks like the problem is occurring for the first time.

There are many families and extended families, where there are multiple cases of autism. These sometimes include two or three siblings, cousins, uncles and nephews. etc. I know about this because of the many emails that I receive for the prayer campaign on this website (the Novena to Saint Philomena the Wonder Worker for the healing of autism.) The link for the novena is on this webpage. Some researchers in the field are acknowledging what is more than obvious to me, that there are hereditary issues involved in some cases of autism.

A government member in Ireland said that many of the mothers in the USA went out to work and that caused so much autism among their children. The implication here is that their children were neglected. I never went to work (during my pregnancies, nor during the time after my children were born) and my mother did not either. (We are Australians by the way and are of Irish background), surely this wonderful theory has saved the Irish government lots of money on autism and its problems.

I read about a lady doctor, who has an autistic child and she came to the conclusion that the use of the contraceptive pill was causing autism. Scrap that theory in my case. I have never, ever, ever, used the contraceptive pill. Older mothers are supposed to produce more autistic children. I had my first (autistic) child at the age of 24 years. Is that OLD?  My mother was 29 years old when my autistic brother was born. A university professor in Queensland, Australia said that older fathers have more autistic children. My husband was 35 years of age at when we had our first (autistic) child and my father was 38 years of age, when my autistic brother was born. Rainy areas are supposed to cause more autism.  I live in the driest continent in the world: Australia!  Need I say more?  I read recently that assisted reproductive technology has caused an increase in autism. I don' know if that is the case, but I can affirm that I did not have any artifical help in getting pregnant. It came naturally!

Another thing which is supposed to cause an increase in autism is closely spaced pregnancies. Okay I qualify here, but what about my first born child and for that matter all other first born children who are autistic, their autism is definitely not caused by “closely spaced pregnancies!” - unless the researcher means the pregnancies that occurr after the first child!  If a child with autism is an only child, there will be no closely spaced pregancies!  Dear researchers please explain that. The theory about closely spaced pregnancies causing an increase in autism sounds a bit desperate. Researchers try to find a better theory on the cause of autism, and make sure that you are sober when you are doing the research! There are some very large families with the mother's pregnancies closely spaced, who do not have even one autistic child.

Jaundice in newborns is supposed to lead to an increase in autism. My first born child (a daughter who was born with autism), did have jaundice soon after birth, BUT my more severely autistic children did NOT have jaundice!

My youngest daughter (who has autism) recently attacked me at the shopping centre and people just stood and watched, when I was in desperate need of their help. One lady who was told about this by a sympathetic neighbour of mine, stated that this happened, because my daughter is not smacked. The poor lady is clueless and knows nothing about autism, and the violence that it sometimes produces in those who are suffering from it, and that is unrelated to disciplining.

A few thoughts about statistics, correlations and drawing conclusions
Sometimes researchers observe something in an autistic child, and then wrongly conclude that it is the cause of the autism. The thing which is observed might be an unrelated co-incidence, and observing a much larger sample of children who have autism, might show that up. To stretch the point a bit; if you see an autistic child who has red hair, have a look at the hair colour of other children who have autism, before concluding that having red hair causes autism. In the highly unlikely event that they all have red hair, it is best to look into the matter further and see if that is really related to the autism.

Many parents who write to me, think that the aggressive attitudes of their autistic children, are because of the fact, that they are nonverbal, so as a result they become very frustrated and aggressive. Perhaps that is so, but some of my autistic children display aggression, despite being able to speak.

The latest thing that I have read on the internet is that having an abortion can bring about autism in subsequent children born to the mother. I have NEVER had an abortion and was so upset to see that this was one of the latest ideas on what causes a rise in the rate of autism.

Abortion is the murder of the unborn, and I do not tolerate it at any stage of pregnancy. The suffering which a family has to endure with autism goes much further than the autism itself. The loony theories about what is supposed to cause autism, which I have mentioned in this article, give me suffering also.  From what I have recently read, the so called connection between abortion and autism, is having premature babies, after having had an abortion. The premmie babies are said to have a greater risk of autism. (Having premature babies after having had an abortion, is one of the identified risks of having an abortion.)

In my case all five of my children were full term babies; so having premature babies definately did not cause autism in my children. I read an article which said, that babies who are born at 39 weeks gestation, instead of at 40 weeks, have more autism because of cesareans!  I did not have a cesarean operation. My mother did have one, but that was not the child who was autistic!

Here are some of my observations about the generational passing down of disabilities: An Australian doctor William McBride discovered a strong link between the drug Thalidomide (a drug used for helping women who had morning sickness during pregnancy) and malformations in the growing baby in the womb. Some of the babies were born without arms, legs, or had malformations of other parts of the body. The general opinion in the medical world was that the many child victims of this morning sickness drug would have children without deformities. The first of these children (a male), had his own child 25 years later. The child was also deformed like his father. Although the drug originally taken during the grandmother's pregnancy appears to have caused the problem, the fact that two generations occurred, suggests that the drug set up a genetics problem.

In another case I read about there was about five generations of a family who suffered from stuttering.  It looked like a done deal: the family had had this problem for years and future generations of the family seemed to be doomed.  A speech therapist intervened and taught the children in this stuttering plagued family and helped them to learn to speak well, and the problem was solved. No more generations with stuttering. It seems that each generation had ‘taught” the art of stuttering to the next generation. (Stuttering can reoccur in those who have already been afflicted by it. The person then needs a refresher course, from a medical professional, to get their breathing and speech back on track.)

My conclusions: Perhaps autism originally in some families had an environmental cause. Whatever that was, might have damaged DNA and then set up a generational and hereditary problem. If you never saw autism in your family before, it might be the first generation of the chain. There is another thing to consider. If a family only has one child and that child is autistic, there is a chance that child will never parent a child, and this will make it impossible to observe the next generation, which might also have showed up some autism.

Autism does not seem to be able to be solved as easily as the stuttering in several generations of a family. Intervention helps in autism, but autism is much tougher than the measures which are trying to deal with helping the person who is suffering from it.

Does a traumatic birth cause or contribute to autism? I have no definite answer to that, but I can tell you the following; my oldest child (a girl), who was born with autism, was delivered by forceps delivery. It was a painful and drawn out labour. With my fourth child, (a boy), who was also born with autism, was a relatively quick and easy labour, with much less pain.  To put you in the picture, I like to say that he slid out in his jelly bag (well partially in it). In fact this birth was so easy compared with the previous three childbirths that I kept asking myself: is that all? The first child’s autism is the least severe in my children and the fourth child’s autism is the most severe (in my children).

Reading this article you might decide that I am feeling annoyed. You are right. I am offended by many of the stupid theories that have been put forward for the causes of autism, perhaps I should not be, but ask yourself how you would feel to have such things thrown at you, if you have at least one autistic child.

As new theories about the cause of autism are floated, I will asses them in the light of the things, that I know about myself and my husband and also about my mother and father, to see if the theories have any validity at all. If the theories are nonsense, I will not hestiate to say so. I will also be happy to acknowledge any theories that I believe stand up to what I know about my family. I am giving my story as food for thought and hope that it will be of help to you all.

Perhaps I should inject a bit of humor into this depressing subject. One man said that the best indicator that he knows of, for having an autistic child, is to start with two highly intelligent parents. Then he added that he did not think that marrying a dumb woman was the solution! 

Mary Ann Matulis

P.S. The article written on this webpage mentions the MMR vaccine and the fact that it was never used on my late brother (the youngest of my parents six children, who died at the age of 24 from epilepsy complications) and my oldest child (a girl), both of whom were born with autism.

There is another issue besides autism to consider when it comes to vaccines.  It is the use of aborted fetal DNA in producing some vaccines.  I did not know about this when my children were little. The use of aborted fetal DNA in making vaccines is immoral.  There are some vaccines that are made from other sources and are acceptable.

The following website will give you more information on this important issue. Children of God for Life

Some other resources on this website

Novena to St Philomena the Wonder Worker for the healing of autism

Autism Information (general and educational)

The powerful intercession of the Holy Souls in Purgatory for their benefactors

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