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.


Anonymous said...

With 35+ years of clinical experience, maybe you can help us find the adults with autism. I think it is truly a amazing situation where parents are left to their own devices to find treatment for this condition. Yes ABA is easy to say but very hard to find people trained and money to pay for. Please give us a little history and insights from your perspective over the last 35+ years as to your theory or theories in the rise of autism.
Thanks Tanners Dad

Dr. Brown said...

I have no scientific evidence to support this but it seems to me that in the past the highest functioning kids with autism were undiagnosed and grew up to become some of the adults we know that have minor problems functioning in society. Children with moderate to severe autism were misdiagnosed as mentally retarded or had learning disabilities and are in group homes and sheltered workshops. There is certainly over diagnosis of autism now but autism is epidemic and 80-90% of my practice. I think the cause is environmental but I don't know what and if it is pre or post natal.