October 17, 2006


Everyone has a pet theory for what causes Autism. Some hold to the belief that Thimerosal - the mercury derived preservative used for some vaccines - is the villain (after all Mercury is toxic in largish doses so smaller doses should be just as toxic -- and don't get me going about amalgam dental fillings, I should save this for another post) A recent paper said that since older couples tended to have a higher instance (a few percent) of autistic children that it was the males damaged sperm that was at fault (damaged eggs? Naaaa). Well in Slate, there is an interesting possibility and one that I could see as a major contributing factor - television:
TV Really Might Cause Autism
A Slate exclusive: findings from a new Cornell study.

Last month, I speculated in Slate that the mounting incidence of childhood autism may be related to increased television viewing among the very young. The autism rise began around 1980, about the same time cable television and VCRs became common, allowing children to watch television aimed at them any time. Since the brain is organizing during the first years of life and since human beings evolved responding to three-dimensional stimuli, I wondered if exposing toddlers to lots of colorful two-dimensional stimulation could be harmful to brain development. This was sheer speculation, since I knew of no researchers pursuing the question.

Today, Cornell University researchers are reporting what appears to be a statistically significant relationship between autism rates and television watching by children under the age of 3. 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.
So the TeleTubbies are evil after all! Parents should not use the Television as a babysitter despite how effective and simple it is. The causes of autism might lay a lot deeper in the physiology of the brain (for example, autistic people tend to have larger brains) but a constant dose of television and computer games would certainly go a long way to foster the otherworldly disease. I sometimes see kids playing the portable twitch games and they are completely unresponsive to outside stimuli. Posted by DaveH at October 17, 2006 9:41 PM

An interesting correlation of autism is that the incidence of autism (and Ausberger's) is well correlated with the children of 'geeks'. That is, silicon valley and other such high-tech Meccas have a relatively high incidence of autism. (And cable, probably :)

Posted by: Al at October 18, 2006 9:27 AM

That is called a post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy.

Posted by: bird dog at October 18, 2006 7:51 AM
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