Kathy Riordan

Kathy Riordan
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JANUARY 6, 2010 12:19PM

Is Autism More Likely to Occur With Highly Educated Parents?

Rate: 26 Flag

 

puzzle-piece 

 

A study published this week by the University of California at Davis reveals the discovery of clusters of autism in places where the parents are older, Caucasian, and have higher than average levels of education.

Researchers at UC Davis MIND Institute found ten clusters in California among children born between 1996 and 2000, primarily in San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco and the Central Valley.  A cluster is defined as any geographic distribution in which there is markedly higher incidence of the diagnosis.   

The findings, published online in Autism Research, raise the question of a correlation between advanced education levels and likelihood of seeking a diagnosis.  "There is mounting evidence that at least some of this clustering results from the greater access and utilization of services by those with more years of schooling."  It is not known if there are other correlating factors, including exposure to household chemicals in homes where education and income is higher.   Children within the clusters were found to be more than twice as likely to have a diagnosis of autism than children in surrounding areas. 

The study did not find any environmental factors which would account for the higher incidence of diagnosis.

According to Karla C. Van Meter, lead author of the study, "In the U.S., the children of older, white and highly educated parents are more likely to receive a diagnosis of autism or autism spectrum disorder.  For this reason, the clusters we found are probably  not a result of a common environmental exposure.  Instead, the differences in education, age and ethnicity of parents comparing births in the cluster were striking enough to explain the clusters."

From the article, the clusters occur in the following areas:

 

Southern California: 

1. The Westside Regional Center, headquartered in Culver City, Calif., which serves the communities of western Los Angeles County, including the cities of Culver City, Inglewood and Santa Monica;


2. The Harbor Regional Center, headquartered in Torrance, Calif., which serves southern Los Angeles County, including the cities of Bellflower, Harbor, Long Beach and Torrance;


3. The North Los Angeles County Regional Center, headquartered in Van Nuys, Calif., which serves the San Fernando and Antelope valleys — two clusters were located in this regional center’s service zone.


4. The South Central Los Angeles Regional Center, headquartered in Los Angeles, which serves the communities of Compton and Gardena;


5. The Regional Center of Orange County, headquartered in Santa Ana, Calif., which serves the residents of Orange County; and


6. The Regional Center of San Diego County, headquartered in San Diego, which serves people living in Imperial and San Diego counties.

 

Northern California:

7. The Golden Gate Regional Center, headquartered in San Francisco, which serves Marin and San Mateo counties and the City and County of San Francisco. Two clusters were located within the Golden Gate Regional Center’s service zone; and

8. The San Andreas Regional Center, headquartered in Campbell, Calif., which serves Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Monterey and San Benito counties.

 

Central California:

9. The Central Valley Regional Center, headquartered in Fresno, Calif., which serves Fresno, Kings, Madera, Mariposa, Merced and Tulare counties; and

10. The Valley Mountain Regional Center, headquartered in Stockton, Calif., which serves Amador, Calaveras, San Joaquin, Stanislaus and Tuolumne counties. 

 

The research comes on the heels of recent findings indicating that one in a hundred eight-year-olds now has the diagnosis.   The CDC in December called the rise of the disorder "an urgent public health concern."  The CDC found the incidence of autism diagnosis to be significantly higher in boys than girls, 1 in 70 compared to 1 in 315.

 

On the Web:  

UC Davis Researchers Identify Autism Clusters in California - UC Davis MIND Institute 

Prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorders - CDC (December 18, 2009 Morbidity and Mortality Report)

 

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Correlation is not causation. Highly educated parents most likely have more medical resources thus their children are diagnosed. I doubt reading and writing create diseases in children.
It's certainly an interesting question. Thanks for making me think, Kathy. rated.
The article addresses that, Dorinda, suggesting that the findings correlate with higher likelihood to seek a diagnosis.
Older parent, yes, possibly. Better educated parents, debatable. Perhaps, the reason these moms and dads are older is because they waited to become parents until they were better educated. I don't see where one has any correlation to the other. And is it possible we have just gone label crazy?
R
I can't say I know much about autism - or child-rearing for that matter, so my opinion here may be irrelevant. But I saw a documentary recently which described why human children required so much parenting, as opposed to many other animals where the offspring had a full complement of instinctual, survival behaviors at-the-ready at birth. Scientists theorize that since the human brain is so large, the offspring must be born long before it is self-sufficient, mainly in order that the head can make it through the birth canal. This speaks to the human necessity of long parenting after birth. It had me wondering about the difficulties of that much commitment, especially on the part of the mother, to parenting. The modern world places such complex demands on parents that they frequently seem utterly overwhelmed by the demands of child-rearing. In light of the epidemic of autism, I wonder if there are some fundamental human dynamics that are somehow not being sufficiently transferred to our infants.
These findings actually correspond with the experiences of a friend who is the mother of an autistic child, and a paid advocate for other families navigating the public education of their own autistic children. Her observation is that many less affluent families (most of her clients come to her via Social Services), already troubled by the daily stress of making ends meet and getting around on public transportation, are often unaware that a child has an autism spectrum disorder until they hear from the school that the child has "issues." Even then, the process of seeking evaluation, and possible help is overwhelming. It isn't that they don't care, just that they are often unfamiliar with "autism," and make adjustments to cope with what seems to them to be a quirky kid.

Parents with more education and money (like my friend), however, are taught to monitor every developmental benchmark, and are more likely to be aware of autism from reading, conversations with other parents or (God help us) from Jenny McCarthy. My-brother-the-doctor speaks often of the "worried well," and he is speaking of folks who have the knowledge and leisure time to obsess over their own moles and rashes; Kathy's piece makes it seem likely that they are also getting diagnoses and assistance for their children at a higher rate, which would account for the "clusters" that cannot otherwise be explained. Rated.
I was waiting for someone to conduct this research. For a disease that seemingly didn't exist, or at least wasn't named and diagnosed, back when I was a kid (elementary school in the early 80s), its sudden prevalence is hard to grasp and understand. I have so many questions and curiosities. Does the availability of pre-natal genetic testing come into play somehow? Are there lessons to be learned from the "ADHD" craze that seems to have faded somewhat? Have we somehow created a catch-all or "designer" diagnosis that short-changes those with the most serious needs?
This will be a third rail if it gets much publicity.
Although the article doesn't study income levels, generally the areas where the clusters were found that correlated with higher incidence of advanced degrees also have higher levels of income. Findings like these are relevant in the ongoing debate on national health care, reinforcing an area where the 'haves' apparently 'get,' and the 'have nots' apparently don't. It's a fascinating study for those willing to take a look at it, which I recommend.
Thanks for the interesting recap, Kathy. I hope this study leads to some kind of action -- perhaps better information campaigns that encourage parents outside these clusters to recognize the signs and seek diagnosis and assistance.

It makes me wonder what happens to the many undiagnosed children out there.
And I will add to Dorinda's observation: when only the rich could afford to vaccinate their children, autism was called the "disease of the rich." Once vaccines became mandated, suddenly the statistics rose alarmingly. That's one reason the anti-vaccine crowd doesn't want their kids vaccinated. The Gov't mandates something but then does no follow-up or suffer consequences when it doesn't work. This has been going on for a long time, what causes autism?! Or is it even a "disease"?

And I am now cynical and do not trust any study unless they prove they didn't have an agenda going in and the numbers aren't being manipulated. rated.
I'm with Dorinda. It's not a good enough study to make any sort of a claim whatsoever in regards to autism being associated with educated whites. It might be enough of a study to claim a possible link, and only a possible one, between education and seeking out help for one's child. But, there'd need to be a bigger sample.
The study covered 2.5 million births in the state of California during the time period, as noted in the press release linked at the bottom of the article.
I'd certainly say that is an urgent public health concern. Hopefully more research in the near future sheds more light on this. Thanks for educating further on this, Kathy.
Those are areas where you not only have extremely high proportions of white, highly-educated people, but extremely high proportions white, highly-educated people working in mathematical fields, married to other white, highly-educated people working in mathematical fields.

Not every kid with autism has classical autism. On the higher-functioning Aspergers end of the spectrum, you have a lot of kids who in previous generations would have just been thought of as ubergeeks.

Now, what if you have two people who have the stereotypical math-nerd qualities (poor ability to read facial cues, fascination with numbers and patterns, no real understanding of unspoken social norms), they meet and fall in love, and produce a kid that inherits those qualities from both parents?
Could it be that in the more affluent families both parents work outside the home, leaving their children with surrogates or at daycares? My wife was determined to stay at home with her children even tho it meant giving up a lot of material things that would have made life more fun and comfortable. I believe our children benefited from this closeness to their mother at the most critical stages of their development. They're healthy and well-adjusted, which, of course, may have nothing to do with having a stay-at-home mom.
Kathy, thanks for posting this. One of the avenues of investigation may be to examine the health of parents and grandparents. For these children, their grandparents may still be available to contribute research information. One question that I would find interesting is what sort of drug experimentation history these grandparents had. By rough calculation, these grandparents were the generation of the 1960s, so the question does need to be asked.
Thanks Kathy...I have a feeling there will be environmental causes found in the coming years. We seem to have a high rate in Central Illinois, although I do not have the statistics. We are always worried about the effects of agricultural runoff and by-products.
This is something I've never heard regarding autism. It seems likely, though, that those who are more educated are more proactive with their children's disabilities. I often wonder with the rise of autism and the rise of peanut and other allergies if it's not that there really are more cases, but that parents are so much more on top of these things these days.
Thanks for printing this, Kathy.
I don't think the indication is that education causes Autism, but rather that the inherited risk factors associated with Autism are more prevalent among groups of people who have enjoyed more economic and social privileged than others. The other direct causative factor may well be that as we grow older our cells are less efficient at repairing damaged or mutated chromosones, and these difficiencies may impact fetus born to older parents who are by and large more privledged than younger parents.
I read about this study as well, and I simply don't know enough about the subject to make any kind of informed comment.
Perhaps well-educated professionals are far too likely to trust other well-educated professionals who profess to know and understand their children's problems better than their parents do.
Why aren't people more skeptical about the epidemic of young children diagnosed with serious mental illness that seemingly occur far more often in the United States than anywhere else?
Interesting. Multiple sclerosis is another condition that occurs more commonly in educated patients. It is rarely seen among illiterate people.
A key aspect of autism diagnosis can be that instead of saying a child has autism, the school system may categorize him as "on the autism spectrum." This allows them to provide the services the child needs without a medical diagnosis of autism. My grandson is "on the spectrum" and is bright, imaginative, and outgoing despite slow language and math development. I get the impression that many people aren't aware that "on the autism spectrum" is not necessariy a diagnosis of autism but is instead an indication that diagnostic tools aren't yet up to saying exactly what is amiss, but needed therapies are available under the autism umbrella.
Or, like ADHD is it more likely to be diagnosed with certain kinds of parents (e.g. highly educated)?
I've read of previous studies where the age of the father at the time the child was conceived was found to be a factor (older = more autism). These results would seem to tie together with that one.
There's another school of thought. Is autism genetic? Are highly educated people driven to certain professions? Medicine, law, academics? This is an intriguing chicken and egg question.

Our son has asbarger's syndrome. Parents have five college degrees between them, grandparents are college educated, great grandparents were college educated. That and four dollars might get one an overpriced cuppa coffee, but my point is that it is genetic or are smart people better able to recognize the signs and symptoms

One of the passions of my life is helping parents of children who newly diagnosed with something on the autism spectrum learn about resources available. And also learn that all is not lost. Children at two or four or six, as every parent knows, may be completely different at twenty. Rated. Thanks for writing this.

BS
Leeandra mentioned something that I've heard disparagingly called "Nerd Syndrome". Specifically in context of higher levels of autism spectrum (including Asperger's) being diagnosed in the kids of Silicon Valley parents. ( As a high tech capital, roughly the "nerd" capital of the universe.) It was speculated that the parents had genetic traits that were at the lower end of that spectrum -- so it was not very noticeable and not impairing in career although perhaps somewhat in their social lives, which SiliValley tech pros often have little of anyway -- so that when you combined their genes, you got a more obvious case in their children.

Along those lines, people used to suggest that Bill Gates had some form of Asperger's when he was first famous. He shared many of the traits/behaviors.
Many people have questioned whether highly educated parents are more on the lookout for symptoms of autism spectrum disorders, which would bias their rate of diagnosis (selection bias). This is certainly true to some degree, as the main symptom many parents bring to their child's pediatrician's attention is "language delay," which may or may not be due to autism. Children's vocabularies are directly correlated to their parents' vocabularies-- they learn what they hear. Highly educated parents with expansive vocabularies and the knowledge of developmental milestones are more apt to be concerned that their children are not speaking early enough, or not as advanced as they'd expect. Similarly, less educated parents would be less likely to have such high expectations. This has got to be a case of correlation and not causation.
One interesting thing about this study and the authors’ conclusions is that it makes sense from so many angles. Autism in the 1950’s was often seen as the result of poor mothering (see Bruno Bettleheim and his classic “Refrigerator Mothers” – you talk about misogyny!)
In the 1960’s it was lumped in with children diagnosed as having MBD (minimal brain dysfunction or damage), as were many children with emotional problems and learning disorders.

In 1975, when the first federal law in special education was passed (P.L. 94-142), autism was included in the category of “serious emotional disturbance.” A very strong parent advocacy movement eventually prevailed and autism was singled out for its own category in federal law (I think it was 1984).
Since then our understanding of autism, now autism spectrum disorder has blossomed. I doubt that we will ever find environmental causes as “the answer”; however, I claim no crystal ball powers.

I have been in special education since 1975 (my Ph. D. is in special education) and have had the privilege of working with many children (and their families) with all of these various issues (autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, learning disabilities, emotional disturbances, etc). One of the original and most well known autism research centers in the world is here in Chapel Hill at UNC. Guess what? We have an incredibly high incidence rate of students with autism here. It matches the Cal study in all ways.

In my experience, socioeconomic factors play a huge role in the identification and treatment (as suggested by the authors). I did not say “cause.” The truth is, one could substitute “Highest achieving students” for “autism” and guess what? They too cluster in areas with parents with above average incomes and education. It’s not as simple as I’m saying (I’ve been way too long already), but this study makes perfect sense. Thanks for posting it.
As the parent of an ASD child, I did not want to let the comments of ClarkK, Redstocking Grandma and Monsieur Chariot pass without remarking their shocking ignorance.
I've always found that the teachers, employers and leaders who were most effective in promoting intellectual and practical growth were the ones who made it clear to their students, employees and followers that "there is no such thing as a dumb question."

This is why I was puzzled to see the comment by "libertarius" that a question I raised, based on personal experience and rational thinking, was deemed by her/him as "shocking ignorance." That alone, with no supporting citations or argument, strikes me as so emotional that I can't help but wonder if I might have touched a personal sore spot by wondering whether surrogate child-rearing might have a bearing on neurological problems developing in children. If not, if my hypothesis is not relevant personally to "libertarius," then why such hostility?

I am cognizant that "libertarius" may deem this question as well to be shockingly ignorant, but I'll be damned if I stop asking questions about serious topics merely to satisfy some intellectual tyrant's unspoken agenda.
There was a recent study showing that Hispanic families have lower rates of autism. No one knows exactly why, but it may be that Hispanics are less likely to have their children evaluated and diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/us_autism_hispanics

Also, any discussion of the supposed increase in autism rates has to take into account two factors. One is the creation of the "autism spectrum," which has broadened the diagnostic criteria for autism, which means more children qualify for a diagnosis. The second factor is a phenomenon known as "diagnostic substitution." What that means is that children who in the past would have been diagnosed as being mildly retarded or mentally ill are now being placed in the autism category. Thus, as the rates of these other disorders go down, autism rates go up. More here:

http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/content/abstract/117/4/1028

It's not at all clear that there is a real increase in autism cases, and even if there are, the rate of increase is vastly exaggerated by the statistics. It's unfortunate because people are being panicked by the idea of an epidemic that may not really exist.
This study is only slightly news.

First off, there is significant research out there that already shows that the incidence of autism is higher in families where the parents, particularly the father, is older. Usually the higher the education level, the later that a couple waits to marry, and the later they are having children. So the idea that autism might therefore seem to "cluster" among higher-educated families is not unusual.

Second, there is plenty of research to suggest that there is a genetic component to autism. That is NOT the same thing as saying that it is a purely genetic disease. (There is some reason to beleive that there is an environmental toxins component as well, but the clear existence of a genetic component should give anyone ready to blame environmental factors alone some pause.) But there are studies that show that families where there is already an autistic child are much more likely to produce an autistic sibling. My husband had one autistic child by a previous marriage. When I became pregnant, the genetic specialist who did my amnio told me that my risk of having an autistic child was about 8 times higher than normal.

People with Aspergers Syndrome are usually of above average intelligence, and for the last 100 years often (when their symptoms are not severe) went undiagnosed, going through life as merely highly intelligent, misunderstood "geeks" as opposed to someone with a developmental disorder. Given the genetic component of autism/Aspergers and Aspergers' correlation with high intelligence, it stands to reason you might find more Aspies kids in areas with highly educated parents.

In fact, research is showing a high incidence in diagnosis of adults with Aspergers and autism spectrum disorders as a result of the increased diagnostic awareness of spectrum disorders in children. What happens is the kid gets a diagnosis, the parent listens to the doctor explain the disorder, and suddenly the light bulb goes off -- "Wait a minute! That sounds a lot like ME!" I have a good friend who found out at 42 that he has a spectrum disorder. He made it all the way through medical school without ever being diagnosed (with a pediatric specialty no less!) . And yet within five minutes of meeting him, as a parent of a child with Aspergers, I recognized the markers of autism all over him. By the way, his daughter is autistic.

I don't know if you can call these "clusters" in the same way that there are cancer "clusters." Remember that the traditional use of the term "cancer cluster" was in the context of identifying environmental factors that were causing cancer (polluted water supplies, airborne toxins, etc.) Here the clustering has less to do with something in that geographic location than with perhaps a common socio-economic demographic. Calling it a cluster in this case might be a misnomer because it makes an unwarranted association of place with a disease when in fact the environment of the place has nothing to do with the research conclusion being drawn. So in that way, I think the research is flawed in its very construction. If you are making socioeconomic correlations, make them, without trying to draw conclusions regarding a particular place.
@Liz - excellent points, especially about the probable genetic link.

The study authors used the term cluster because they were using a cluster model hypothesis to structure their reseach question. They address the fact that these geographic clusters do not appear to be environmentally linked, and then they offer their sociodemographic variables explanation for the incidence rates in this particular study invovlving a very sizeable number of subjects.

While the news is not "new" this appears to be a carefully conducted epidemiological study that should help us to better understand the tenfold rise in the rates of autism.
I know you have personal experience, and are very well read on the literature - I offer these comments only in the spirit of adding to the information here.
ClarkK, understand something about parents who have kids on the spectrum -- we see A LOT of ignorance in the general public with respect to our children. Our children do not behave the way they do because of poor parenting or lack of parenting or lack of attachment to parents. They behave the way they do becuase their brains process information in a completely different way from neurotypical children like yours. It is a clinically observable neurological condition.

And yet every parent of an autistic child has had to deal with ignorant people who presume that autism doesn't really exist as a real, clinical disorder, or who presume that the fact that your child has autism is somehow because of your failings as a parent. Pediatricians who refuse to consider the diagnosis of autism, instead suggesting that your child's behavior is due to the "lack of discipline." Mothers on the playground who give you dirty looks because your kid doesn't behave like the other kids. Schools that would rather kick your kid out of school rather than undertake their legal obligation to accommodate a child with a disability.

Parenting a child with a spectrum disorder you are constantly battling people's ignorance, so often defensiveness becomes a way of life. We go to war for our kids because we have to. It's often the only way to make sure they get the treatment, the services and educational accommodations they need and are entitled to.

I'm going to take you at your word that you were asking an honest question. But realize that the underlying presumption in your question is that somehow autism is really about lack of attachment or poor parenting rather than a neurological condition. To those of us who parent autistic children, who know this condition intimately, it can seem to be an insult, even if you didn't mean it to be.
Appreciate your explanation, Liz. I'll take dispassionate any day over deliberate insult. I would suggest that my tossing surrogate parenting on the table is no different than the inference that parental education is somehow to blame.

I'm surprised that no one in this discussion (at least I didn't see it) mentioned John Elder Robison's enlightening autobiography, Look Me in the Eye - my life with asperger's. Robison is the brother of Augusten Burroughs, author of Running with Scissors. He is also the man who, with his electronic circuitry genius, developed the famous "fire-breathing" guitars used by the rock group KISS. He wasn't diagnosed with Asperger's until he was 40. An amazing book by an amazing man. His website is at www.johnrobison.com.

BTW, I was diagnosed with ADD when I was about 60. I've been on Ritalin ever since, and I plan to write about my experience for the "A" Open Call project - either tomorrow or Friday. Watch for it at a blogsite near you.
"I would suggest that my tossing surrogate parenting on the table is no different than the inference that parental education is somehow to blame."

Nothing in this post or the comments suggested that parental education was to blame for the existence of the autistic condition, only that it might account for a diagnmostic sensitivity to its existence or the maintenance of fluency norms that make the communicative difficulties endemic to ASD stand out in sharp relief. ClarkD on the other hand clearly did look to "blame" autism on the use of parental surrogacy, a scarcely displaced retread of the Bettelheim argument that he undoubtedly knows nothing about.

Was he thus being insulting without really meaning to? I'm sure. But then that is the very definition of ignorance. And I never directed any insult deliberate or otherwise at him, only at his words, which remain as benighted as I said they were.
Makes me wonder who funded the study when they conclude that there is no link between autism and the environment. Results can be so subjective depending on who funds the research. So many parents, like Jenny McCarthy say that they see an improvement when they control their child's diet. If it's highly educated parents who have this issue with their offspring--wouldn't that be more likely to prove an environmental link? After all, the diets of the poor probably contain a lot of fatty, processed foods compared to the MBAs who are probably more caffeinated but have access to better more wholesome food. You would tend to think that it's the age factor, but I read in an old Scientific American years ago that older parents have kids with stronger immune systems, because they've had more of a chance to build up immunities to different pathogens and viruses--though is fetus with a weak immune system more likely to develop autism? I don't buy this conclusion.
Maybe, then, disclaimers should be attached to topic such as this one to the effect that "please limit the discussion to people with intimate experience with or professional knowledge of the subject." In this case it might include a caution that any reference to psychogenic theories of autism causation be avoided.

I would add here that while Bettelheim's "refrigerator mother" theory has been largely abandoned in this country there remain significantly credential proponents, such as Ann Miller, Peter Breggin and Frances Tustin.

Tustin, a clinician, wrote: "One must note that autism is one of a number of children’s neurological disorders of psychogenic nature, i.e., caused by abusive and traumatic treatment of infants.… There is persistent denial by American society of the causes of damage to millions of children who are thus traumatized and brain damaged as a consequence of cruel treatment by parents who are otherwise too busy to love and care for their babies."
Hey Kathy :) Does the research include the entire spectrum? I was wondering if ADHD falls in here. Great post.
So many parents, like Jenny McCarthy say that they see an improvement when they control their child's diet.

Here's something you have to keep in mind when you hear anecdotal stories about kids who improve on a special diet or other alternative therapies: autistic kids are developmentally delayed, not developmentally stagnant. Most kids will progress to some extent no matter what you do. It's easy for a parent to initiate a diet, see their kid achieve a milestone and then attribute it to the diet even if the kid would've progressed no matter what they were eating.

The reality is that there are almost no autism interventions that have solid research behind them, with the exception of Applied Behavioral Therapy. Even Floortime, which is an increasingly popular therapy, doesn't have research proving it's effective.

There really needs to be more research on what exactly autism is (it's not even clear if it's one discrete disorder or different disorders that manifest with the same symptoms) and effective ways to treat it. It's unfortunate that this subject creates such hysteria and suspicion because parents and kids are floundering and need better options than are available at the present time.
This is a very interesting post and following conversation that touches me personally. My youngest child was diagnosed on the higher-functioning end of the Autism Spectrum (PDD-NOS: Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified) when he was 2 years old. I am Hispanic and highly-educated (my husband, not so much). I was an avid reader of parenting magazines and was aware of my son's considerable speech delay and overall impression that he was somewhat lost in space. With a little direction from his pediatrician and lots of help from kind therapists, he thrived through lots of early intervention therapies (no special diets, no medication). I kept busy getting him to therapy and followed the practices at home. But, above all, what pulled him out from his funk (and I minimize it only now, at the time it was NOT funny at all... it never is), was my husband's and my strong belief that we just had to work with him at his pace. This meant spending endless hours throwing rocks with him, watching the night sky, or catching butterflies. It was through active social participation in his interests that he began sharing the rest of us. His neurologist, who was not 100% sure of the original diagnosis, eventually made a conclusion about him that still remains. Gabriel is a very intelligent child and it often happens with highly intelligent individuals this over-compensation renders a social deficit. Being brilliant, like all things in life, also has its down side. Today he is 8 and no longer in any therapy. He is a motivated and very focused self-learner who does brilliantly in school and has friends (though is not very bubbly with them). He has a very marked interest in nature, particularly animals, that has ranged from learning all about the cosmos to being able to identify any butterfly AND its gender. Yes, he is the quirky kid. I know he'll grow up to be a nerd. I will always guide him to chose work among his passions - as he will certainly succeed. He is choosy about his friends, is sensitive, compassionate, and experiences the world.
Was he ever really Autistic? I know that when he was 2, he was lost - as if in another planet. Now, he is very much a part of this one. Maybe, in this day, we over-label and over-compartmentalize too much. Do we need to know exactly what is "wrong" with him to fix it? Maybe we should just treat symptoms to help children adjust to society. But I strongly think that we must also embrace the quirk and just tweak it where the child is still him/herself yet able to live on planet Earth.
Just a thought... :-)
Thank you, Kathy, for bringing this study forward here. The comments here are largely well stated and very informative as well.

The subject is like many that can become very touchy when the conversation takes place with some who have personal familial experience with the issue and others do not or are just learning about it, as is my case.

I have found that Liz once again offers a good understanding of this dynamic and knows how to express why it develops. In the light of the hot button nature of the topic I think that even though some sparks were generated, on balance the commenters have done a great job.

I agree with Grif that the study does help fill in some of the gaps. And nowhere does it argue that its findings reflect conclusions on causality. We do need to keep that in mind.

This is one of the better conversations that we have had on OS. I have been blessed to have some of those on my posts. At times I think that the post itself becomes important not primarily because of what it says but because of the discussion it generates. I think that when that happens it shows blogging at its best.

Monte
My wife works in special education, focused on children with autism, in a neighborhood of mostly highly paid and educated professionals, a good deal of whom waited until a bit later in life to have children.
Recently one of the nicest little guys you'd ever want to meet had heard his diagnosis of Asperger's Syndrome mispronounced so many times that he finally told her that he didn't mind being different, but he wish they had come up with a name for his problem that did not start out by calling him "ass".
Kathy - great science reporting! Hadn't heard of this study yet. Very interesting!
My conjecture: Could it be that autism is a set of symptoms which leads to a diagnosis or, label, which could be caused by any number of shocks to the central nervous system ?
I am willing to bet that this is a highly complex "disease". Perhaps, just as some are born with the bone structure or the muscular structure to excel in athletic endeavors, but may never, due to lack of training and resources, some are born with a well integrated central nervous system, yet are born into a chaotic environment, which the nervous system cannot overcome, and thus cannot develop into a well-rounded individual. And by chaotic, I do not mean chaotic to the well-meaning, well-intentioned adults, who may have read every handbook out there on the proper care of an infant. "Chaos" to the immature infants CNS may be, simply the combined affects of being raised in contemporary america--from the "antibacterial"interiors, toxins in water, vaccines and foods, to parents who are overly committed to the clock, to caregivers, parents or otherwise who learned how to nurture from a handbook rather than by a relative, family member, or by personal experience with siblings or "charges" (thereby having no personal "natural" instinct as to what makes an infant feel secure and loved). A succession of such stresses may cause the young infants nervous system to react to a relatively minor event in a crying fit which is catastrophic to the Central Nervous System.

Another thing to think about is that Autism seems to be an example of a personality type which we revere in this culture (think of the lone, suffering, "genuis" or tycoon ). It is individualism taken to an extreme. Perhaps children in our society are given too much alone time and are treated as separate and individual at too young of an age when they are neurologically simply not ready for it. If the parent is already an extreme of this sort of behavior (the type of person and personality which is highly monetarily successful and who has come-of-age (and aged) within a corporate structure which prizes high-minded logico-rational thinking ), it makes sense that there would be rash of children exhibiting the signs of neurological overload. A highly individualized person who is analytical in mindset, who processes emotions on an intellectual level may have a hard time switching gears, suddenly rearranging themselves to be at the beck and call of an "irrational" eating, crying and sleeping machine. In a way, our society and the demands it places on our time and personhood to be "successful", may have stripped us of the means and know-how, to make up for the loss of the "it takes a village", way of life. Biologically speaking, as a species, we evolved in bands or clans of people where babies were continually attended to passed from family member to siblings to placate their little bundles of nerves.
All of the above coupled with a perhaps, minor over-investment that well-educated people have over their child being seen as intellectually fit, may lead them to pursue a diagnosis early rather than just keeping a watchful eye or shifting priorities around to fulfill the needs of the neurology of the infant (admittedly hard to do).
This is very well expressed, Christina. Thank you for adding your viewpoint.
I am the mother of a child diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. I am also a teacher.
I have come across this theory before. I believe it was a national magazine and it was discussed as the "geek chromosome" if I'm not mistaken, due to the supposed prevalence of autistic children in places like Silicone Valley.
Autism's prevalence is very difficult to account for. It could be better diagnostic tools. Pediatricians who are now looking at the markers with more care. Parents who are better educated. Environment. Who knows? The last I heard was that perhaps there was a correlation between oxytocin given at childbirth and the hormone affecting the newborns' brains. And yes, perhaps, we have gone label crazy.
I have no answers for you. My son is currently in 7th grade at a public school in a "regular" classroom, is enrolled in the Special Education program, participates in clubs and tutoring programs. He received speech and occupational therapy. He is fully bilingual though he still has a hard time with some language skills in his native tongue, strangely enough not in English. I could tell you we have been lucky. But for the rest of those who are having very difficult issues with this condition answers are needed.