Thursday, September 07, 2006

Mixed headlines on the causes of autism

This graph shows the rising number of cases of autism. And the headline of the Washington Post on Monday read
Autism Risk Rises With Age Of Father

It began with "Children born to fathers of advancing age are at significantly higher risk of developing autism compared with children born to younger fathers, according to a comprehensive study published yesterday that offers surprising new insight into one of the most feared disorders of the brain."

According to a United press article released yesterday, the study was comprehensive, but it was done in the 1980's and while the number of fathers was large, the total number of children with autism who had older dads was small, only 13. There were also only 4000 children born to fathers over 40 versus 128,000 children with fathers under 40. It makes the possible margin of error enormous. It means that the higher number of children with autism born to fathers over 40 may simply be due to how the data was collected and there may be no age difference at all.

The United press article then goes on to argue how autism isn't genetic, but caused by environmental factors. I think more data definitely needs to be gathered to make any sort of conclusion. But I suspect as with most health issues, both genetics and environment play a role. Perhaps certain genes combined with toxins in the environment give you autism.

Even though I didn't agree with either article, I was glad to see more discussion about the causes of autism on the front page of a major newspaper. Also for once, dads' age is getting the spotlight instead of the usual moms' age story.

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