Autism is once again in the news.  And well it should be.  Diagnosis of this truly heartbreaking disease is coming with more frequency than ever before.  Treatment options are lackluster.  A cure is not in sight and the disorder’s origin is under increasingly heated debate.

Autism is both heartbreaking and devastating.  Heartbreaking because it strikes in early childhood.  And it strikes with devastating symptoms that vary wildly from one autistic child to the next.

Researchers at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (UNC) have recently explored the connection between the mental health of parents who have a child diagnosed with autism and the likelihood that they’re offspring will develop autism.  They scrutinized the records of 1,237 autistic children for comparison against the records of 30,925 children without the disorder.  For research purposes only, the mark of mental illness in a parent was defined as one that required hospitalization at some point during life, either before or after the birth of the autistic child.

The research team discovered that a parent with schizophrenia is twice as likely to have a child with autism than a parent without a history of mental illness.  Mothers who battle depression and some personality disorders are also more likely to give birth to children who develop autism.  There is no increased likelihood of autism in his offspring, however, when a father suffers from the same personality disorders and depression.

This UNC study on autism and parental mental health used records dating from 1977 to 2003.  The study group consisted of children who had been diagnosed with autism before their tenth birthdays. 

There is no conclusive answer thus far as to what, exactly, is the cause of autism nor is there a universally accepted reason for the rise in diagnoses in recent years.  Autism is a very complicated disorder and its cause is proving to be just as complicated.