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Tuesday, October 17th 2006

The Original Title Has Been Deleted…

First, comes news from Vandy researchers that a single mutation in the gene MET is associated with autism. Which is important, not only to help unravel the mysteries of the disease but to throw some sand on anti-vaccine nuts,

“The possibility that a MET variant might lead to immune dysfunction and gastrointestinal disturbance along with autism-spectrum disorders is an important question to pursue and one that will likely lead to some debate,” State writes.

That’s because the first theory to link autism, gut problems, and immune dysfunction blamed these symptoms on childhood immunization with the measlesmeasles/mumpsmumps/rubella (MMR) vaccine.

That theory — now rejected by all but one of the researchers who first proposed it — holds that kids who develop autism are particularly sensitive to the toxic effects of thimerosol, a form of mercury used as a vaccine preservative.

The thimerosol theory was rejected by an Institute of Medicine panel of experts. Now the MET gene may reopen investigation into the link between autism and other developmental problems.

“The very important question of whether and how gut disturbance, regression, and immunological issues may be related has been, in part, obscured by this [thimerosol] controversy,” State writes. “Hopefully, the present study will lead to additional rigorous investigations of these questions without fueling unnecessary concern regarding MMR.”

Second, comes a correlation from Cornell researchers between television watching under the age of 3 and autism. Not that I remember being 2 years old very well, but I thank my parents for turning the television off. The following is a write up on Slate,

The researchers studied autism incidence in California, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Washington state. They found that as cable television became common in California and Pennsylvania beginning around 1980, childhood autism rose more in the counties that had cable than in the counties that did not. They further found that in all the Western states, the more time toddlers spent in front of the television, the more likely they were to exhibit symptoms of autism disorders.

Waldman and Nicholson conclude that “roughly 17 percent of the growth in autism in California and Pennsylvania during the 1970s and 1980s was due to the growth in cable television.”

The Cornell team searched for some independent measure of increased television viewing. In recent years, leading behavioral economists such as Caroline Hoxby and Steven Levitt* have used weather or geography to test assumptions about behavior. Bureau of Labor Statistics studies have found that when it rains or snows, television viewing by young children rises. So Waldman studied precipitation records for California, Oregon, and Washington state, which, because of climate and geography, experience big swings in precipitation levels both year-by-year and county-by-county. He found what appears to be a dramatic relationship between television viewing and autism onset. In counties or years when rain and snow were unusually high, and hence it is assumed children spent a lot of time watching television, autism rates shot up; in places or years of low precipitation, autism rates were low. Waldman and Nicholson conclude that “just under 40 percent of autism diagnoses in the three states studied is the result of television watching.” Thus the study has two separate findings: that having cable television in the home increased autism rates in California and Pennsylvania somewhat, and that more hours of actually watching television increased autism in California, Oregon, and Washington by a lot.

The story also has a podcast associated with it,


My God, My Plan For Parenting When I Have Children – To Buy A High Def “Baby Sitter” – Has Been Shot!

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