Study Finds Connection Between Autism and Air Pollution

Diesel particulates have now been linked to autism. Photo by: Zakysant

Diesel particulates have now been linked to autism. Photo by: Zakysant

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in 88 children are or will be diagnosed with a type of autism.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) refers to a group of developmental disabilities that cause social, communication, and behavioral challenges. Now, a new study draws a connection between environmental factors in pregnancy and instances of ASD.

Autism Spectrum Disorders – Causes

The term “spectrum disorder” means that the disorder can affect every person differently. Some people may have a mild form of autism that allows them to participate in normal, everyday activities without many interventions. However, some people have severe cases and need more assistance to allow them to adapt and function. ASDs typically begin before the age of two, and symptoms include not responding to their name by 12 months of age; not pointing to objects by 14 months of age; not playing pretend games, like feeding a baby doll, by 18 months of age; speech and language delays; trouble understanding feelings; repeating phrases over and over; having obsessive interests; getting upset easily when things change, and other symptoms.

So, what causes ASDs? No one knows for sure. However, experts agree that a combination of risk factors come to play in determining whether a child will be diagnosed with ASD. According to a new study, led by Dr. Andrea Roberts and presented at the American Chemical Society National Meeting and Exposition, researchers may have found a new piece to the autism puzzle.

Are Air Pollution and Autism Connected?

Lead author, Dr. Andrea Roberts, research associate in the Harvard School of Public Health Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, has discovered a link between autism and air pollution, finding that women were twice as likely to have a child with autism after being exposed to high pollution during pregnancy.

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Dr. Roberts and her team of researchers looked at the Nurses’ Health Study (a study that began in 1989 and surveyed 116,430 nurses) and compared those who have children with autism (325 women) to those who had children without the disorder (22,000 women). The researchers also used air pollution data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to estimate a women’s exposure to the air pollution while pregnant.

The results found that women were twice as likely to have a child with autism when they lived in the locations with the highest levels of diesel particulates or mercury in the air during pregnancy. Dr. Roberts also associated an increase in the likelihood of having a child with autism with other types of air pollution — such as lead, manganese, methylene chloride, and combined metal exposure. Women who lived in the locations with the highest level of pollutants were about 50 percent more likely to have a child with autism, compared with those women who lived in the lowest concentration.

Click to Read Page Two: Andrea Roberts, PhD., on the Autism Study’s Findings

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