MU researcher aims to reduce problem behaviors for children with autism
Notably, Santa Clara County had a surge in the rate of autism spectrum disorders between 1993 and 2000, with rates doubling among whites and Asians in just seven years. As Nevison and Parker recall in the new paper, that surge gave rise to controversial theories that men with poor social skills but strong math and engineering skills were increasingly able to find partners in the tech-age and were fathering "genetically autistic" children.
"Our data contradict that argument," said Nevison, noting that today Santa Clara County has one of the lowest prevalence rates of severe autism in the state among whites. Growth in prevalence among Asians has also flattened in the county.
Meanwhile, the study found, incidence among blacks has increased rapidly across California, marking the highest rates among any ethnic or racial group at 1.8%. That finding is in line with previous research finding that autism prevalence is rising rapidly nationwide among African Americans.
Some health experts have attributed such increases among minorities to better screening and diagnosis, but the authors believe environmental factors also play a role.
Just which factors may be at play is unclear, but Parker notes that many of the same things that fuel disease-causing inflammation--toxins, unhealthy food and emotional stress--are also associated with autism. And lower-income and minority families tend to have a harder time accessing or affording healthier lifestyle options.
Established risk factors associated with autism include: advanced parental age, challenges to the immune system during pregnancy, genetic mutations, premature birth and being a twin or multiple.
The authors cannot say if their findings would translate to other counties around the country or to milder forms of autism. They also cannot rule out that wealthy families are opting out of state services in favor of private services. More research is underway.
With autism affecting one in 59 children nationwide in 2018--a rate expected to be revised by the Centers for Disease Control later this spring--they hope the paper will encourage parents and policymakers to look beyond genetics and better outreach and diagnosis.
"There is an urgent need to understand what wealthy California parents are doing or have access to that may be lowering their children's risk," they conclude. Source:
University of Colorado at Boulder Journal reference:
Nevison, C & Parker, W . (2020) California Autism Prevalence by County and Race/Ethnicity: Declining Trends Among Wealthy Whites. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders . doi.org/10.1007/s10803-020-04460-0 .
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