Several studies have been done in the last decade indicating that families with autistic children have a higher prevalence of autoimmune illness. As I was reading about the autoimmune factors associated with autism, a chill went down my spine. For many years I have been perplexed as to how our family could have been struck with both autism and juvenile diabetes. It seemed like such bizarre misfortune to have two very different incurable conditions strike three of my sons. But perhaps there is a link. I remember when a nurse in my son’s hospital room mentioned that there might be a link between the two, and I thought she was off her rocker. But maybe, just maybe, there is some truth to it.
Autism and Autoantibodies
From what I have uncovered, researchers are suggesting that autistic children have a documented existence of particular autoantibodies in their blood. Some have been found to have autoantibodies against certain regions of the brain, including serotonin receptors, myelin basic protein, cerebellum, prefrontal corex, and others. Yet these anti-brain autoantibodies do not appear to be actively destroying the tissues of the brain. Still, it’s possible that their presence caused a one-time inflammation or in some other way altered brain functioning during early brain development. Some children with autism have had the epithelial membrane of their gastrointestinal track destroyed by autoimmune reaction. We also know that many autistic children have food allergies, which is also related to autoimmune dysfunction.
Juvenile Diabetes and Autoimmune Dysfunction
We already know that juvenile diabetes type 1, with which my first and third son have been diagnosed, is caused by an inappropriate autoimmune response where the body attacks its own pancreatic cells. The body’s immune system doesn’t recognize its own cells, and mistakes them for foreign invaders (like “friendly fire” within the human body). The pancreas then ceases to function, causing the condition. Recently, my oldest son was undergoing tests because his blood had signs of a possible new undiagnosed autoimmune illness such as lupus. It turned out that he did not have enough diagnostic criteria for that disease, but there were definitely signs of autoimmune dysfunction in his blood that were causing his physicians concern.
Is there a link?
So I’m putting the pieces together and seeing some connections for the first time. Perhaps all these conditions affecting my family are related, at their base level, to autoimmune dysfunction. My children have immune systems that are defective in some way. And obviously, the problem must have a genetic component. What has caused these faulty immune systems? Unfortunately, some answers only lead to new questions.
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