California study finds autism clusters

Jenny Decker RN's picture
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In an autism study released on Wednesday in the journal Autism Research, it was found that there are 10 clusters of higher autism prevalence in California. The research team used a method to find the autism clusters which is similar to the method used to find cancer clusters. The researchers hoped to be able to identify the clusters and perhaps find localized environmental causes for higher incidences of autism, writes Reuters.

The autism clusters did not correlate with any environmental factors, much to the dismay of autism advocates who are asking for better autism research so that better treatments for autism can be implemented. Instead, the study indicated that the cause of autism may be much more widespread than one environmental exposure. The clusters did point to a relatively important factor, though. This link is that children with some type of autism disorder were more likely to be children of mothers who are highly educated.

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This link does not necessarily mean that this is the causative factor of autism. What it does show is that the health care system of the US is not balanced in availability of resources for all that need them. The researchers indicated that there are likely children in less educated homes that have an autism disorder, but they remain undiagnosed because these parents, who are often less fortunate economically, may not have access to resources or may not even know about what is available.

Data was gathered from 2.5 million births in California between 1996 and 2000 with 10,000 of those children later diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. The 10 clusters were found in areas where the parents generally have higher education levels. Perhaps greater awareness of the symptoms of autism led to seeking for help. The study indicates that parents with less education were less likely to seek out resources, possibly because of the lack of knowledge of resources or lack of insurance, and thus the inability to get child to someone who could diagnose the autism. This could even be related to a lack of knowledge of symptoms.

The research team will be conducting further research to determine if there are any widespread exposures to chemicals such as household products. This will include gathering dust samples from 1300 homes with children with an autism spectrum disorder. Another study that will be done by this team includes following pregnant women who have already given birth to autistic children and determining if there is a correlation with any common exposures, such as with medications, foods, and so on.

The study was done by six researchers at the University of California Davis MIND (Medical Investigations of Neurodevelopmental Disorders) Institute. The team suggests that there are many children that have an autism spectrum disorder that are not diagnosed and therefore, not being treated. They suggest that possibly increasing autism awareness is the first step to educating all parents about resources that are available, even to those without insurance. For example, in California, resources for these families are available at the California Department of Developmental Services (DDS). Children who are diagnosed at an earlier age and receive services sooner will do better in the long run.

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