Saturday, November 08, 2008

Clinic Notes: Will We Ever Find the Cause of Autism

Recently, it was reported that a link between rainfall and autism had been found. Children who live in cold rainy areas such as the Pacific Northwest have a higher rate of autism. The author of the study theorizes that the rain keeps the children inside where they are exposed to more toxins, electromagnetic waves, etc. It is possible to find statistical correlations with the increasing rate of autism and anything else that has increased since the early 1990's. Normally, correlations give us a clue as where to conduct more controlled studies to establish causal relationships. The problem is that science has to be ethical. So obviously we could not randomly choose a group of children and raise them in a rainy environment to see if they developed more autism cases compared to a control group. One way out of this is to develop animal models of autism as is done with other diseases. But then another problem arises with animals because a prominent feature of autism is language which is not present in experimental animals. I expect that we will see numerous studies correlating autism with numerous other variables (we have published correlation studies in this area), but then we will have great difficulty in establishing causality.