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Monday, March 25, 2013

Autism: Causes, Correlates, and Confusion

Last year, Brandy Crainer wrote at The Examiner:
In recent news several possible factors have been pointed to as causes of autismmaternal obesity, smoking during pregnancy, lead, PCBs, paternal age, and maternal age. Despite the rush to find a definite cause for autism spectrum disorders, the answers seem numerous and it becomes difficult to evaluate what studies are worth paying attention to and which are just bad science. Parents looking at the headlines may feel fingers are being pointed at them while expectant mothers may worry everything they do will cause autism in the future.
The list also includes auto exhaustpesticides, plastics, and gut bugs.  (Also see a list by Emily Willingham.)

Now add a couple of other risk factors:  maternal experience with childhood abuse and the age at which grandfathers had their children.

The problem here is not necessarily the quality of the research, but the risk of media overload. Under the barrage of potential causes of autism, people may end up believing everything or believing nothing.

If people obsess about remote, hypothetical risks, they may overlook real and avoidable risks.  Alternatively, after a point, they may just tune out the entire subject.