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Study Confirms Environmental Factors In Autism Development

August 16th, 2011

A new study, Genetic Heritability and Shared Environmental Factors Among Twin Pairs With Autism, released by the United States National Institutes of Health confirms that environmental factors play a huge role in the exponential rise in autism rates, and that previous efforts to prove that genes alone cause autism have been overstated.

“Increasingly, evidence is accumulating that overt symptoms of autism emerge around the end of the first year of life,” the researchers wrote. “…[W]e hypothesize that at least some of the environmental factors impacting susceptibility to autism exert their effect during this critical period of life.”

Autism rates have exploded since the 1980s, when one in 10,000 children developed autism. Now, one in every 110 children is likely to develop autism, according to the CDC. Researchers have been trying to locate a gene in the human body that acts as a “switch” to turn on the disorder, but have been largely unsuccessful. Advocacy groups like the National Autism Organization say that a genetic cause cannot fully explain the massively increased rates of the disorder, and that environmental factors are likely to play a major role.

Some studies have sought to tie the increasing autism rates to vaccinations that most infants receive. These studies have been inconclusive, and fraudulent in one famous case, but may receive revived interest based on the NIH study.

The Combating Autism Act, passed by Congress in 2006, directed the NIH to research any possible environmental causes of autism. But in 2009, only 9 percent of research funding was spent on environmental causation, according to the National Autism Association.

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