Study links environmental pollutants to autism

Children who are diagnosed with autism may vary greatly in their cognitive functioning and capabilities. That's because autism is known as a spectrum disorder, meaning there is a wide variance in the types of symptoms a child may display as well as the severity of these symptoms. However, all children diagnosed with autism express some degree of difficulty when communicating and interacting with others.

Within the last 20 years, diagnoses of autism spectrum disorder have increased significantly. Yet, despite the fact that today one in 68 children born in the U.S. is diagnosed with ASD, scientists know very little about what causes the disorder. Consequently, there has been much speculation and misinformation about possible causes. Scientists do believe that both genetics and environmental factors play a role in the development of ASD and a recent study helps support an environmental link.

For the study, medical researchers in Pennsylvania reviewed the cases of 217 ASD children who lived in six different counties. These children were then compared to non-ASD children who were born at approximately the same time in the same counties. The families of these children were all interviewed and asked questions aimed to identify possible exposure to air toxins and pollutants.

The findings of the study were presented this week at the annual conference of the American Association for Aerosol Research. Based on the findings, researchers determined that pregnant women and children under the age of two who were exposed to certain air toxins and pollutants were up to two times more likely to be impacted by ASD.

The study's findings are significant in helping researchers determine possible causes of ASD and in finding ways to reduce the levels of certain pollutants in our environment.

Children with ASD often require extra time and attention from parents who must transport a child to numerous medical and therapy appointments and devote time to helping a child develop coping skills. For these parents, Social Security disability benefits may help offset financial hardships associated with reduced work hours.

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