Researchers seeking the roots of autism have linked the disorder to chemicals in air pollution and, in a separate study, found that language difficulties of the disorder may be due to a disconnect in brain wiring.
Researchers from Harvard University’s School of Public Health found that pregnant women exposed to high levels of diesel particulates or mercury were twice as likely to have an autistic child compared with peers in low-pollution areas. The findings, published today in Environmental Health Perspectives, are from the largest U.S. study to examine the ties between air pollution and autism.
One in 50 U.S. children are diagnosed with autism or a related disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Children with autism may be unresponsive to people, become indifferent to social activity and have communication difficulties. A separate study from Stanford University and published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences is the first to suggest that weak connections between brain regions for speaking and reward may be why.
“There isn’t a lot of data to strongly point at what are the root causes of the social deficits in children with autism,” Daniel Abrams, a postdoctoral research fellow at Stanford University inCalifornia, said in a telephone interview. “We think it has this important motivation and reward component to it.”
The cause of autism isn’t known, though genetic factors are thought to be important, according to the National Institutes of Health.
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