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New studies reveal more information about autism cause

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
June 19th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Researchers say they have confirmed a link between air pollution and autism. Another study is announcing that the language difficulties associated with autism could be from a disconnect in the brain's wiring.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Harvard University's School of Public Health is saying that pregnant women exposed to high levels of diesel particulates or mercury have twice the chance of bearing a child with autism than those who live in areas with minimal exposure.

The findings were published in Environmental Health Perspectives and are part of the largest U.S. study yet to examine possible ties between air pollution an autism.

About two percent of U.S. children, or 1 in 50, is diagnosed with autism or a related disorder, according to figures from the CDC.

Despite the findings, scientists say their results don't constitute a cause, per se. Rather, genetics still seems to be the primary factor of causation, although it remains unclear just what could trigger the disorder on a genetic level.

The current study does confirm the findings of an earlier, 2006 study, led by Gayle Windham from the California Department of Health Services. A second study, published last year, also suggested that air pollution was a factor in autism.

The Harvard study was much larger in scope, using data from the Nurse's Health Study 2, a long-term study that involves the participation of 116,000 nurses and has been ongoing since 1989. Researchers evaluated 325 women who had children with autism and 22,000 women that had children without it.

Meanwhile, researchers studying the connection between autism and language say they believe the connections between brain regions for language were weaker in children with autism. This is key because children with autism have difficulty with early language skills and emotional understandings.

Infants without autism have better-connected pathways and receive dopamine rewards from the brain for making sounds that serve as a precursor to speech.

Children with autism fare differently in life, based on the severity of their disorder and the level of support they receive. For many children, their prognosis is good as they can learn to lead independent lives and navigate society as well as those without autism. Some individuals with autism have even been certified as geniuses.

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