Rise in Autism and the Environment

Written by Tela Kayne

A recent study as reported by WebMD shows that Autism is on the rise and environmental factors may potentially be part of the reason.  In the past decade, the State of California has seen an eight-fold increase in children diagnosed with autism. While some of the increase  can be explained by the fact that parents and professionals alike are more aware of the disorder, it doesn’t explain this surge in cases that has come about over the last 10 years.

“The awareness thing is very hard to quantify,” Irva Hertz-Picciotto, PhD, MPH, chief of the division of environmental and occupational health at the University of California, Davis says. “But at some point, as more and more parents became aware of autism, the increase should have leveled off. Instead we see a continued increase in autism.”

The study suggests that while the focus of autism has traditionally centered around genetic factors, it’s time to look at environmental influences too.

Hertz-Picciotto notes that the lion’s share of autism funding is going to genetic studies. She argues that it’s high time more effort was put into looking for environmental factors that cause autism in genetically susceptible individuals.

“A lot has changed in the environment over the last 10 to 15 years. And I paint with a broad brush when I say environment: These changes include things like medications people take and assisted reproduction technology as well as what is in soaps and pet shampoos and toothpaste and so forth.”

I’ve always felt that the increase in developmental disorders in children has something to do with the many chemicals and toxins they are exposed to, whether it be artificial colors, flavors and preservatives in processed food, preservatives in vaccines, pesticides used on produce and in lawn care, phthalates in plastics, heavy metals, chemicals like formaldahyde found in furniture, fire retardants in pajamas and mattresses, or the thousands of chemicals used in household cleaners.  At some point the body becomes overloaded and unable to defend itself, and I believe children are especially susceptible due to their rapid growth and relative size.  I’m incredulous over the fact that it’s taken so long to finally look at these environmental factors as a potential cause of autism and hope that future studies will help shed some light on the potential dangers that threaten the development, health and wellness of our children.

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