Does Folic Acid Reduce Childhood Autism?

There’s an increasing incidence of autism, a developmental disability common in children around the world. Just in the United States, one in every 100 children is diagnosed with it, according to the latest figures in 2022.

For children, living life with autism can be bewildering and distressing because they often have problems communicating. This makes them unable to easily fit in, get along with people, and even be understood by their loved ones.

Photo: Mikhail Nilov / Pexels

The good news is that research suggests that early intervention can help overcome difficulties associated with autism. One of the most widely discussed topics nowadays is whether maternal folic acid (FA) intake can help prevent the likelihood of autism.

Autism: Causes and Symptoms

Autism is both a neurological and developmental disorder. It’s a neurological disorder caused by differences in the brain that affect how a person thinks, learns, communicates, and behaves.


There are multiple causes of autism. Some of which may act together, while others are still unknown. Overall, researchers haven’t narrowed down the exact cause of autism yet. However, many of them link it to epigenetics, the study of how one’s behaviors and environment affect the way their genes work.

Even though they’re still inside the womb, babies are indirectly exposed to environmental factors through their mothers. While some of these environmental influences are good for the babies, others can leave adverse impacts on their development at the genetic level.

Specifically, the moms’ diet and lifestyle choices may cause epigenetic alterations or gene expression changes, leading to ASD.


While it can be diagnosed at any age, autism generally appears in the first two years of life. Hence, it’s a developmental disorder. It’s often characterized by repetitive behaviors and delays in the development of communication and non-verbal skills.

Children with autism often do repetitive actions, such as hand-flapping and rocking. They also repeat noises and words (medically called echolalia) and particular thoughts (medically called perseveration).

Between ages 2 and 4, they show an inability to understand basic non-verbal social cues instead of showing advanced communication and social skills. They’re likely to show reduced eye contact, facial expressions, body language, and social interaction, and they’re more comfortable dealing with toys than people.

Moreover, it’s important to note that autism is a spectrum disorder, so every person with autism is different from another. For example, their cognitive skills (how they learn, think, and problem-solve) can range from highly skilled to severely challenged. Others may live independently, while, in most cases, many require support daily.

Parents’ Early Intervention is Critical

For children, the challenges that people with autism may have can give them a bad childhood and school life. If not handled well, they won’t only cause social isolation but also psychiatric problems, including depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

This is why the medical community strongly suggests the early diagnosis of autism to help mitigate levels of disability in children. It’s often a two-stage process: well-child check-ups and diagnostic evaluation.

Folic Acid: Another Early Intervention for Autism

Prenatal supplementation of folic acid is another early intervention for folic acid. This has been widely encouraged by many governments, especially in countries with increasing incidences of neural tube defects (NTD) or commonly called birth defects.

These countries with required folic acid fortification programs include the US, Canada, Costa Rica, Chile, and South Africa. Studies have shown that these programs help boost blood folate concentrations in pregnant women and decrease NTD-affected pregnancies by 25% to 50%.

Can Folic Acid Really Reduce the Chances of Autism?

The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition claimed that folic acid lowers the chances of autism in two ways:
  1. Folic acid plays a key role in cell growth and neurodevelopment. During pregnancy, in particular, deficiency of it increases congenital irregularities. That means prenatal supplementation of folic acid may help prevent development problems, such as NTD and autism.
  2. Folate pathways contain one-carbon (1C) metabolism. They support multiple physiological processes in our body. Without 1C, epigenetic alterations may take place, which may lead to developmental problems, which may include autism.

Things to Prepare for Kids with Special Needs

Seek medical advice from your general practitioner (GP). As mentioned, autism has broad conditions, which may not always be checked for during an autism assessment. GPs can help you get any extra care your child needs.

When overwhelmed after your child has been diagnosed with autism, there are places you can get support from, such as autism assessment teams, local support groups, and national charities.

Moreover, to provide future protection, put in place preparations for money management, self-care, and housing. Again, you may find help and support services for these, so keep looking and don’t lose hope.

For future money management, while your child may receive government benefits like Medicare or Supplemental Security Income, secure life insurance. It’s the cheapest yet the most secure way to fund a trust. But before applying for the first one you see, make sure to shop medicare advantage plans and insurance policies to find the best one for your child’s needs.

Self-care and housing depend on your child’s ability to live semi-independently or entirely independently. For a more affordable yet safer option, opt for community-based living with state-administered Medicaid HCBS waiver programs. They allow people with special needs to live in an apartment or a house, either alone or with a group of similar residents.

Final Thoughts

If your kid is diagnosed with autism, remember that you’re not alone. There are government agencies and several groups that can have your back. Help and support are available. More importantly, while things may be hard now, they can get better soon.
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