Now This Is Interesting on Autism

OK, very much preliminary findings but:

Chemicals found in pet shampoos may be linked to a raised risk of autism, a study of how environmental factors influence the developmental disorder has suggested.

Mothers who used pesticide-based shampoos to wash their pets while pregnant were twice as likely to have a child with an autistic spectrum disorder as those who did not, according to early results from a US research team.

Hedged around with all sorts of "preliminary", "confirmation bias" and so on. However,  it does fit in with what seems to be the best explanation of the causes of autism, the idea put forward by Simon Baron Cohen.

I\’ll leave aside all the details and point just to the actual mechanism he posits: that it\’s the influence of testosterone upon the developing foetus. If these pesticides do indeed change the levels of such in the mother\’s bloodstream (hmm, not sure, does testosterone cross the placental boundary?) then it all fits neatly together.

One thing should be noted though: Baron Cohen thinks that genetics (the rise of assortative mating) is the primary driver of the rise in cases: but he\’s never ruled out the thought that there could be environmental triggers as well. Given that autism is actually a diagnosis of symptoms (in the same way that "cancer" is) rather than a specific disease, there\’s no reason why there can\’t be both, genetic causes and environmental: there could be cases caused solely by either plus those caused by the interplay.

9 thoughts on “Now This Is Interesting on Autism”

  1. “hmm, not sure, does testosterone cross the placental boundary?”

    Oh yes. Girls born with an abnormally high level of testosterone from the mother grow up to like climbing trees, hate wearing dresses, able to read maps, that kind of thing.

    (well, maybe not bit about being able to read maps)

    http://www.ksbw.com/health/1781366/detail.html

    Tim adds: OK then, that ties in even more closely with Simon Baron Cohen’s ideas about the “male brain” and “female brain” then.

  2. “Tim adds: OK then, that ties in even more closely with Simon Baron Cohen’s ideas about the “male brain” and “female brain” then.”

    Indeed. It has oft been remarked that men are semi-autistic creatures. It’s a bit flip to talk of “male pattern brain” but there’s definitely something in it. For a mainstream exposition of the ideas see:

    http://www.amazon.com/Dont-Listen-Women-Cant-Read/dp/0767907639

  3. Autism have come to mean a whole host of unrelated conditions with a “spectrum” of symptoms and causes which has caused an explosion of children diagnosed with it. Until “autistic spectrum disorder” is better defined we will continue to get silly causes from pet shampoo, MMR, and TV.

  4. “Autism have come to mean a whole host of unrelated conditions with a “spectrum” of symptoms and causes which has caused an explosion of children diagnosed with it.”

    Indeed. Akin to “poverty” (i.e. some people can’t afford a 42″ plasma telly) or “gun crime” (police were called to kids playing with water pistols).

    The symptoms of Asperger’s are often confused with the symptoms of “being an asshole”, leading to a much wider prevalence of autism than is justified (Gordon Brown, asshole or autistic?)

  5. Pingback: pet

  6. So Much For Subtlety

    It occurs to me in passing that chavs often marry young. And probably don’t wash their pet dogs in special shampoo all that often. Middle class women marry later and are far more likely to wash their dogs in this way. Speaking as someone who can’t remember ever seeing a dog get a shampoo in his young life. Age is a factor in autism and much else. How do we know that correlation is causation here?

  7. “The symptoms of Asperger’s are often confused with the symptoms of “being an asshole”, leading to a much wider prevalence of autism than is justified”
    I suspect you are talking about self diagnosis there – somewhat fashionable but an easy cop out if you are an asshole.

  8. Leave aside the reliance on self-reporting and this research still seems pretty worthless. They tracked exposure to chemicals after the fact, then chose the one that came out unusually high and said ‘A-ha!’

    Scientifically, this doesn’t even demonstrate correlation, let alone causation. It’s like going over last season’s footy results and showing that Man Utd were abnormally likely to concede goals to teams in blue. That might be true, but it doesn’t become science until you can use it to predict *next* season’s results.

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