What causes 'autism clusters'?
California researchers found "clusters" of autistic children in neighborhoods with heavy concentrations of white, highly educated parents. In some of the 10 pockets the University of California-Davis study uncovered autism rates that were twice as high as in surrounding areas. Researcher Irva Hertz-Picciotto said the findings don't necessarily mean that autism is more common in these families — it could also be the case that poorer families with lower education levels don't seek or have access to help. What does this study tell us about America's rising rates of autism?
This is good news: "There is some relief in knowing the explosion of autism diagnoses in large part reflects a widening of the autism umbrella," says Nathan Thornburgh in Dadwagon. Better educated parents — many of whom live near facilities equipped to treat autistic children — are "creating autism clusters because they are fighting harder to have their kids diagnosed as autistic." Decades ago, many of these kids would have been "written off as unruly or antisocial or just poor students," but now they'll get the help they need.
This just confirms the poor are being ignored: "Armchair epidemiologists" spotted these clusters long ago, says blogger Sullivan in Left Brain Right Brain. They're not real, of course, they're just proof that poorer neighborhoods are rife with "undiagnosed autistics." This is just wrong — it's "long past time" for autism advocacy organizations to increase awareness and services in "underserved" areas.
"Autism Clusters Found: areas with high incidence of autistic children"
The clusters don't explain what causes autism: The link to education is interesting, says Paul Taylor in the Toronto Globe and Mail, but in Denmark, where everyone has access to universal health care, "a child's chance of being diagnosed with autism is not tied to the education level of parents." So even though the researchers were looking for some environmental trigger that could explain why some children develop autism, their findings don't really offer any "worthwhile clues."
"Autism clusters tied to educated parents"