Encyclopedia of Autism Spectrum Disorders

Living Edition
| Editors: Fred R. Volkmar

Environmental Risk Factors for Autism

  • Leny MathewEmail author
  • Elizabeth KauffmanEmail author
  • Rebecca Schmidt
  • Irva Hertz-Picciotto
  • Kristen LyallEmail author
Living reference work entry

Latest version View entry history

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4614-6435-8_102054-2


Environmental risk factors for autism may be broadly defined as any nongenetic contributor to the risk of autism and include reproductive-, dietary-, chemical-, and demographic-related exposures.

Historical Background and Evidence for a Role of the Environment

Environmental factors have been explored as contributing to the development of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) since the condition was first characterized in 1943 by Dr. Leo Kanner, who stated that children with autism had “very few really warm-hearted fathers and mothers” (Kanner 1943). Soon after, the term “refrigerator mother” was coined, which blamed the child’s behaviors on emotionless parenting (Bettelheim 1972). This explanation has since been disproved, and though the focus shifted from environmental factors for some time, research from other areas has clearly demonstrated a role of the environment in ASD.

Early twin studies in the 1970s and 1980s demonstrating non-concordance of diagnosis in monozygotic twins...

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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.AJ Drexel Autism InstituteDrexel UniversityPhiladelphiaUSA
  2. 2.Department of Public Health Sciences and the MIND InstituteUniversity of California, DavisDavisUSA