Autism is such a strange disorder. I don’t mean the disorder in and of itself. I mean the ways in which people respond to it. By this point, millions of merely hyperactive children have been falsely diagnosed, and fear-mongers have attributed the cause to many unproven sources, the most famous of which is the asinine falsity that the mercury in immunization vaccines is a sure cause. But where there are many sources to refute these rumors, researcher Hjördis Osk Atladottir, of the University of Aarhus in Denmark, has discovered a different cause, and one with actual proof to back it up.
The study followed 97,000 children born between 1997 and 2003, and their mothers. From this group, 976 of the children were diagnosed with autism, and it was found that these children were far more likely to receive such a diagnosis if the mother’s first or second trimester of pregnancy involved the flu or prolonged fevers.
This isn’t the first study that has shown a direct correlation between the two factors, but Atladottir is wary of strong conclusions being drawn from his study, saying, “Around 99 percent of women experiencing influenza, fever, or taking antibiotics during pregnancy do NOT have children with autism.” But as anyone with a layman’s knowledge of big numbers knows, even one percent of those pregnant women whose fever and flu do lead to autism can be a staggering number. Atladottir’s hesitation has garnered some eyebrow-raising.
Said CIT biology professor Paul H. Patterson, “The data indicates that maternal flu infection or an extended fever increases the risk for autism in the offspring — a twofold increase.” Noting the finding is consistent with other research, including the University of California, Davis study back in May, he’s “not clear on why they appear to soft-pedal their results in their conclusions.”
It seems clear that Atladottir may be worried about an onslaught of hypochondriac pregnant women clogging up clinics and emergency rooms, when all they would need to do is follow the same basic formula for pregnancy that everyone is supposed to follow. Or maybe even causing a generation of women to avoid actively getting pregnant in the first place, fearful of a more difficult parenthood. But even if both of these things would be definite outcomes, it’s not really a researcher’s place to withhold such critical information.
Though the specific causes for the connection are unclear, UC Davis study author Irva Hertz-Picciotto theorizes that inflammation in the mother’s tissues would have an adverse affect on the child’s neurological development. The same could be said of the hypothetical link between a mother’s diabetes and a child’s autism.
Research into environmental causes of autism, not a widely researched subject, is taking place now, thanks to a CDC-sponsored study following more than 2,700 children in California, Colorado, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania, with hopes of identifying any common factors influencing the disorder. I’m guessing they’re crossing the country in Raymond Babbitt’s footsteps.