Surprising data from a recent study suggest that clusters of autism have been identified mostly in communities with highly educated, mostly white residents. The most significant factor correlating with the diagnosis of autism was the parent’s educational attainment level. This was distinct from almost all other factors. The fact that the majority of these communities were European-American/White may or may not indicate a racial component as socio-economics may also be influencing the racial makeup of these groups.
Researchers found that after adjusting for other variables, the majority of areas of autism clustering were characterized by high parental education (relative risks greater for college-graduate vs. non high-school graduate parents). Other possible considerations related to these findings are that regional health centers do not actively conduct case finding and parents with lower education are, for various reasons, less likely to successfully seek services. In other words, the relative preponderance of autism cases may be skewed by other factors related to detection and by health services seeking behavior among various groups and within diverse communities.
Autism is a developmental disorder that appears in the first 3 years of life, and affects the brain's normal development of social and communication skills. Most parents suspect something is wrong by age 18 months and generally seek professional help by age 2. Children with autism typically have difficulties in pretend play, social interactions, verbal and nonverbal communication. Some children with autism appear normal before age 1 or 2 and then suddenly "regress", losing language or social skills previously gained. This is called regressive autism.
People with autism may be overly sensitive in sight, hearing, touch, smell, or taste (for example, they may refuse to wear "itchy" clothes and become distressed if they are forced to wear the clothes); have unusual distress when routines are changed; perform repeated body movements; show unusual attachments to objects. Communication problems often cover a wide variety of presentations. These may include such things as the inability to start or maintain a social conversation, the use of gestures instead of words, delayed or absent development of language, lack of visual focus in conversation, incorrect self referral, repeating of words and nonsense rhyming.
Social interactions are often abnormal. Autistic children do not make friends easily, often will not play interactive games, behave in a withdrawn manner, avoid eye contact, prefer to be alone and seem to lack compassion or empathy for others. Responses to various environmental stimuli may appear abnormal. They may not startle at loud noises, often display increased or decreased senses of sight, hearing, touch, small or taste, may find normal noises painful holding their hands over their ears, may withdraw from physical contact, may rub or lick objects, and may over or under react to pain.
At playtime these children often do not imitate the actions of others, tend to be solitary and demonstrate a lack of pretend or imaginative play. Other behaviors that can signal early warnings include intense tantrums, single topic focus, short attention span, narrow interests, overactive or passive, aggression toward others, poor response to change and repetitive body motions.
Basic research has implicated various areas of the brain as being effected. These areas include the brain stem, cerebellum and corpus callosum. These brain areas all have to do with basic motor function as well interconnection and communication between various parts of the brain itself.
Autism is a diagnosis and disorder that is the cause of great stress to parents and families. They often search in vain for a diagnosis and proper treatment. It is a fact that both diagnosis and treatment are often difficult and sometimes controversial.
While this study does not pinpoint a preventive strategy, any new information is helpful as researchers try to understand the complex development of personality in young children and the myriad of factors that may contribute the development of this disorder.