The Grapevine

Is Autism Genetic? Sperm Donor May Have Passed On Disorder

Questions about the real causes of autism emerged again after 12 children with the condition were found sharing the same history. They are all the offspring of a single man who allegedly donated sperm that caused the problem with their development. 

A woman from Illinois discovered the link while researching treatments for her two sons who were conceived with sperm from one donor. Danielle Rizzo said she found that the same man is the father of other children who also developed autism, The Washington Post reported Saturday.

The discovery prompted Rizzo to file a case against her sperm bank. The case also raised concerns that a mutation in one donor's sperm can cause autism in children of different mothers. 

However, experts said that parents or those planning to conceive should not think that there is an "autism gene,” which they could blame entirely for the problem. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) explained that there are hundreds of genetic variations that put babies at risk of autism spectrum disorder. 

Mutations can play a role in the condition’s development. But it is not 100 percent of the time that autism will occur just because of a mutation. 

The NIH estimates that only 2 percent to 4 percent of autism cases are blamed to genetic mutations. Experts said genes and environmental factors, including parents’ ages and birth complications, can also affect a baby’s development. 

"We call autism one thing, but it's different in every person,” Wendy Chung, a professor of pediatric medicine at Columbia University, told the Post. “In some, it's all about the genes. Some it's a combination of genes and the environment. Some people, it's unknown." 

In the case of Rizzo's children, doctors found two mutations that contributed to autism. Problems occurred in the genes called MBD1 and SHANK1.

The mother of two said in her lawsuit that the sperm bank Idant Laboratories obtained false information from the donor, identified as Donor H898. Rizzo found the man was also diagnosed with ADHD, which was not included in his profile. 

In March, she agreed to settle the lawsuit with the company and received $250,000.

Child Autism The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one in 59 children has autism spectrum disorder in the U.S. Pixabay