Departments: Your Questions Answered
Q What caused the autism clusters found in California recently?
DR. MICHAEL L. GOLDSTEIN RESPONDS:
A Right now no one can say for certain what caused these autism clusters in California. The results of this study—which appeared online in the journal Autism Research in January 2010—suggest that people with higher education have a higher incidence of identified autistic children. However, no one knows why exactly. Perhaps having more education enables one to recognize the symptoms of autism, which leads to better diagnosis, while those with less education do not recognize the signs and thus do not seek treatment. Or the correlation could be that people who seek higher education have an increased incidence of having children with autism. These are hypotheses that need to be studied.
However, the study of these autism clusters in California suggests that there are no new environmental factors that contribute to the cause of autism. This is very reassuring to those who worry about hidden toxins in the environment that might cause autism. All the clusters can be explained by known associations, such as parental age and education. What should be emphasized, however, is that the association between parental education and the increased chance of having children with autism needs to be studied to determine the actual correlation between the two.
Michael L. Goldstein, M.D.
Specializes in child neurology and practices with Western Neurological Associates in Salt Lake City, UT. He is also the former vice president of the American Academy of Neurology.