Autism is a developmental disorder, which affects the way the brain processes information. Impairments are often apparent in three main areas: social interaction, flexibility of thought and communication, this is known as the Triad of Impairments. Autism affects 1 in 100 people in the UK and the cause is still unknown so research is still essential in this area. Nevertheless there are a number of potential causes.

Firstly, there is evidence to suggest that some forms of autism stem from genetic factors. It could be the case that there is a certain gene that determines whether or not a child develops autism. However this may be the case for one individual, but due to the fact that autism is such a diverse disorder, it is unlikely that this would be the cause for everyone. Furthermore, research suggests that it is likely that more than one gene is responsible for autism. There is a strong evidence base for this theory, as it is not uncommon for families to have more than one child with autism or to show autistic traits throughout the generations.

Others have argued a non-genetic cause of autism. This involves the prenatal environment. It is possible that prenatal exposure to viruses such as rubella can present a risk to the unborn child. This is because viruses such as rubella can stimulate the release of a certain antibody, which can react against the proteins in a foetus' brain. Other possible environmental factors can include exposure to toxins, excessive use of ultrasounds during the pregnancy or certain electronic devices.

In recent years, there has been the debate over the MMR vaccine. It was in 1998 that Andrew Wakefield first suggested the idea of a link between autism and the vaccine. The truth was, there were multiple flaws in the 1998 report, which were later identified including evidence that patient data was manipulated. The suggestion that autism and the MMR vaccine may be linked, provoked a large amount of research. The scientific consensus now is that there is no link between the two and it is 100% safe to allow your child to be immunized.

There is no straightforward reason behind autism and so research is still very much vital. However, it is suspected that there could be a combination of causes but at this point in time, researchers are unable to pinpoint one specific cause.