Today, after a student study team meeting, the members, including the assistant principal, school nurse, psychologist and myself (the teacher and parent had already departed), all looked at one another in disbelief. Were we about to test another autistic kid? The school psychologist pointed out that statistically we should be identifying about 10 autistic children a year, and at our current pace we’ll make that easy. Why are so many autistic kids showing up at our door? I don’t think they all have advanced age fathers as research linking paternal age and autism would suggest. And as for blaming it on vaccination, I don’t roll that way. It’s easier for me to believe that airborne pollutants are the culprit as a recent study suggests. Our school is within spitting distance of the 405, one of the busiest freeways in the world, and we also have the honor of being in the flight path of two major airports. As for my own family, we live near the intersection of the 5 and 134 freeways. And though I haven’t measured the distance from our home to these roadways, I imagine that we are pretty close to a thousand feet away, the distance the researchers believe would put us us at risk. Not that any of this matters, to us, or to the parents of the autistic children that we identify at our school. Knowledge might be power, but it can’t turn back the clock.

The abstract from the report:

Background: Little is known about environmental causes and contributing factors for autism. Basic science and epidemiological research suggest that oxidative stress and inflammation may play a role in disease development. Traffic-related air pollution, a common exposure with established effects on these pathways, contains substances found to have adverse prenatal effects. Objectives: To examine the association between autism and residence proximity, during pregnancy and near the time of delivery, to freeways and major roadways as a surrogate for air pollution exposure. Methods: Data were from 304 autism cases and 259 typically developing controls enrolled in the Childhood Autism Risks from Genetics and the Environment (CHARGE) Study. The mother’s address recorded on the birth certificate and trimester specific addresses derived from a residential history obtained by questionnaire were geo-coded and measures of distance to freeways and major roads were calculated using ArcGIS software. Logistic regression models compared residential proximity to freeways and major roads for autism cases and typically developing controls. Results: Adjusting for sociodemographic factors and maternal smoking, maternal residence at the time of delivery was more likely be near a freeway (?309 meters) for cases, as compared to controls (odds ratio (OR), 1.86, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.04-3.45). Autism was also associated with residential proximity to a freeway during the third trimester (OR, 2.22, CI, 1.16-4.42). After adjustment for socio-economic and demographic characteristics, these associations were unchanged. Living near other major roads at birth was not associated with autism. Conclusions: Living near a freeway was associated with autism. Examination of associations with measured air pollutants is needed

Photo by Vidar Andersen

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