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Autism Awareness: Is proximity a factor in diagnosis?

Posted by Lylah M. Alphonse  April 12, 2010 02:33 PM

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Maybe you've seen the posters hanging in T and commuter rail stations -- photos and stories of children with autism, and a question: "What does autism look like?" 

April is Autism Awareness month and, to answer the May Institute's question, a person with autism can look like anyone.

Late last year, the Department of Health and Human Services reported that autism was more widespread that previously believed, with about 1 in 100 children on the autism spectrum. The oft-cited link between the MMR vaccine and autism has been officially dismissed, and studies seem to show that now, more than ever, no one knows what really causes or triggers the disorders.

A new study by researchers from the Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy at Columbia University published in The American Journal of Sociology shows that children who live near a child who has been diagnosed with autism are more likely to receive an autism diagnosis themselves. How could proximity play a part?

"From shared toxicants, through the diffusion of a virus, as a by-product of neighborhood selection, or through the diffusion of information about autism through social networks," the researchers wrote, adding that "meeting children with autism and having discussions with parents of children with autism could lead parents (of children not diagnosed with autism) to observe behavioral symptoms consistent with autism, to learn how to effectively identify and reach a physician, and to learn how to access and subsequently navigate services and service agencies."

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about the author

Lylah M. Alphonse
Lylah M. Alphonse is a member of the Globe Magazine staff and mom and stepmom to five kids. She writes about juggling a full-time career and parenthood at The 36-Hour Day, and about everything else at Write. Edit. Repeat. When she's not glued to the computer or solving a kid-related crisis, she's in the kitchen or, occasionally, asleep.

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