Academic journal article Environmental Health Perspectives

Autism and the Environment?

Academic journal article Environmental Health Perspectives

Autism and the Environment?

Article excerpt

Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are a group of neurodevelopmental disorders that emerge before 3 years of age and are characterized by impairments in social and communicative skills and the presence of stereotyped and repetitive behaviors and interests. The prevalence of ASD appears to have increased dramatically within the last decade. Intensive community-based surveys estimate that as many as 6 of 1,000 school-age children are affected. Although part of the increase can be attributed to changes in diagnosis and greater public awareness, there is concern that increased exposure to toxic environmental agents during critical periods of brain development may play a role.

Much of the existing data used to implicate environmental agents in ASD is limited by methodological shortcomings and has not addressed the issue of gene-environment interactions. In recognition of the public health importance of understanding autism and the lack of reliable data that bear on potential environmental etiologies, the NIEHS has taken steps to support research in this area. The largest effort has been through the NIEHS/EPA Centers for Children's Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Research (http://www.niehs.nih.gov/translat/children/children.htm), where two centers focus on autism.

These centers, located at the University of California, Davis, and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, are conducting multidisciplinary studies to identify environmental and genetic risk factors in autism. …

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