Autism: Is it Something in the Air?

Concern about skyrocketing rates of autism in children has prompted a growing body of research into genetic and environmental factors that may play a role in the disorder. Now scientists are looking at whether there’s something in the air that’s playing a role in escalating rates of this heartbreaking disorder.

And a new study out of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles suggests that maternal exposure to air pollution, even during pregnancy, may be a contributing factor in autism.

The study found that infants who had the highest exposures to air pollution experienced autism rates three times higher their peers.

That doesn’t mean, however, that there’s a direct cause and effect relationship between air pollution and developing autism.

For example, researchers noted it’s possible certain toxic chemicals in polluted air may be a contributing factor. That thinking  relates to theories that autism may somehow be related to an immune system response. Certain pollutants, for example, might play a role in suppressing the immune system.

So while just blaming “air pollution” per se is premature and extreme the researchers noted their findings call for more investigation and study.

The USC researchers’ findings were reported recently in the Archives of General Pyschiatry.