New Research Leads to Growing Awareness of Autism
> 5/15/2006 3:56:29 PM

A new Time Magazine cover story sheds light on an unusual and thoroughly misunderstood condition: autism. Though much of the public draws their information on the disorder from pop culture references like Dustin Hoffman's Oscar-winning portrayal of an autistic adult in "Rain Man," scientific and social awareness of the condition is expanding.

New studies report that as many as 1 in 175 school-age children in the United States are autistic. These numbers have increased exponentially in the last decade, prompting speculation on whether the condition is truly more common or only more frequently diagnosed. Evidence suggests that its prevalence has indeed increased, though many physicians still fail to screen for autism. Others point to variant diagnoses which are often grouped under the mantle of autism spectrum disorders, such as Asperger's and Kanner's Syndromes as well as Sensory Integration Dysfunction. As research progresses, disproving many common myths about autism, the medical field and the general public have begun to adopt a more empathetic perspective toward those with the condition.

Autism is a neurological disorder whose symptoms generally appear within the first three years of a child's life. Early markers include difficulty with communication, heightened sensitivity to certain environmental stimuli, dysfunctions within the immune system, and, in some cases, a prediliction toward acts of spontaneous, frustrated violence. For many years, researchers believed autism to be brought on by early exposure to the mercury compounds used to preserve many childhood vaccination formulas, but no demonstrable evidence confirms this theory. Figures do suggest a heavy genetic element to autisim, as children with autistic siblings or parents are much more likely to exhibit symptoms.

Though its effects may impair a child's social and educational progress, autism does not curtail life expectancy, and the degrees of its influence vary widely. Many autistic patients go on to achieve considerable success, and experts speculate frequently on which historical figures may have been autistic, their guesses ranging from Einstein to Warhol. While research continues to explore the fringes of this mysterious condition, increased social awareness makes the outside world slightly more receptive to the needs of autistic individuals, especially the hundreds of thousands of children in America and elsewhere who live with it every day.


I suggest that if average paternal age is increasing the number of children diagnosed with autism would be expected to also increase. In Abraham Reichenberg's study the children of father's 40 and over were almost 6X more likely to be autistic and over 50 (there was only one) 9xs more likely. The ratio was close to 1:1 girls to boys suggesting that the sporadic form related to older fathers was different than the familial form where the ratio is about 6 boys to one girl. This call for a discussion of the public health implication of advancing paternal age has so far been ignored. psychiatrist, however, is asking for some reflection on the matter.
Posted by: annie 1/21/2007 1:37:57 AM

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