Autism cluster linked to parents' education

High rates of autism are linked to high levels of parent education, not neighborhood toxins, in Silicon Valley and nine other regions of California, conclude University of California-Davis researchers.

College-educated parents of autistic children are more likely to fight for a diagnosis — and seek the state-funded services that accompany it — than less-educated parents, according to the team. Parents of children in these autistic “clusters” are also more likely to be older and white.

Researchers did not see more autism in the Silicon Valley than in Sacramento or Southern California, suggesting there is no “geek gene” that predisposes techies’ children to autism.

The high-autism areas did not share the same toxins.

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  1. I would expect a 7th grader in my school to know that truly random events are not equally distributed, and therefore occur in clusters. And yet, so many adults see a cluster and conclude that there must be something wrong.

  2. “But in Denmark — which requires autism screening of all children — no difference was found among educational levels of parents.”

    So it’s not a toxin unless it’s uniformly distributed across Denmark. If it is, it’s only a toxin by definition, i.e. it can do bad stuff in sufficient dosage. Like water, oxygen, nitrogen and carbon dioxide.

    The only “toxin” that has a distribution controlled by education is ignorance.

    Better educated parents here in the U.S. have heard of autism. Better educated parents here in the U.S. are less likely to be buffaloed by a district “specialist” who’s more interested in not spending that precious Title I money on yet another kid with problems.

  3. All human behavioral traits are heritable. Yaers ago, Wired published an article which related increased rates of autism to the increasing tendancy of techies to marry other techies. The article quoted someone describing NASA as “the world’s largest protected workshop”. Thomas Sowell (Late-Talking Children) related the spectrum from autism-aspberger’s syndrome-“late talking children” to parents’ facility in memory, mathematics, and music.

  4. Kevin Smith says:

    The valedectorian two years ago at the high school I teach at was a student long since diagnosed with Asbergers. He was near monomanical in how he focused on things, extremely literal, had near zero social skills, and no sense of humor. Today we call him autistic, 50 years ago we would have snet him to go work on the Manhattan project. Would he have ever been labeled if his (both M.D.s) parents hadn’t pushed for it? I doubt it.

  5. palisadesk says:

    It’s looking more and more like the various factors contributing to autism are more numerous than first believed. A case in point is the recent enumeration of the extremely high rate of the severest form of autism among Somali immigrants in two separate locations: Stockholm, Sweden and Minneapolis, MN. About 1 in 25 children born to these families has severe autism, yet the condition was unknown in Somalia. A genetic basis must be present, but also one or more environmental triggers. One theory some medical investigators are pursuing is the role of Vitamin D in prenatal brain development.

    For more information:

    In the case of the Somali children, parental education is not the determinative factor.

    BTW, how do you embed a live link on this blog? Since there is no “preview” feature for comments I don’t want to fill the box with HTML that may not work.

  6. “College-educated parents of autistic children are more likely to fight for a diagnosis — and seek the state-funded services that accompany it — than less-educated parents, according to the team. Parents of children in these autistic “clusters” are also more likely to be older and white.”

    So, what’s new here? The same thing has been happening with the diagnosis of LD for 30 years. LD never developed a valid definition or valid diagnostic criteria. Thus, “everybody” became LD and the number of diagnoses exploded. Now, no one agrees on what LD is and how it is diagnosed. For a good review at the postsecondary level, see the two recent papers (2009) published by Sparks and Lovett in the Journal of Learning Disabilities.

    A good basic axiom is this: The more you expand the parameters of a concept, the more you undermine the concept. That’s what happened with LD. Now, the same thing is happening with autism. As a result, we see and hear nonsense about autism, e.g., 1 in every 130 children is born with autism. The increase in autism diagnoses is a social phenomenon, not a genetic one. For reference, see Gernsbacher, M. et al. (2005). Three reasons not to believe in an autism epidemic. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 14 (2), 55-58.

  7. Thank you, Joanne, for bringing this issue forward. It’s important.

    I remember how ridiculous it was to hear from a Boston autism ‘expert’ that everyone at MIT is ‘on the spectrum’ and has a ‘bit of the ’tism.’ Give us a break!

    Alas, when a diagnosis is so over-extended, it ceases to have meaning and seems to serve the servers more than the served.

  8. When I was in college in the 60s, I visited the state residential facility for the developmentally disabled. Many of those labelled “retarded” at that time are now classified as autistic. The behaviors haven’t changed, but the definitions have. Kids who used to be a bit odd/geeky/whatever are now “on the autism spectrum”. The SAT’s removal of the “special testing conditions” label has driven families I know to seek the LD label just to get more time on tests.

    There has been parallel creep on the psych side, as well. Over a decade ago, I remember a HS teacher in an affluent suburb saying that she had kids with IEPs for various “stress” labels, relating to quitting smoking, breaking up with a boy/girlfriend etc. They were very quick to tell teacher that they “couldn’t help doing (whatever) because of their diagnosis, too.


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