Dirty Air Could be Causing Autism in Children’s Developing Brains

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According to a recent report published on Fox News, air pollution contamination might have a newly identified risk: brain damage. Researchers with the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences have recently indicated that constant exposure to air pollution can impact brain development.

Their research with mice indicated that air pollution inhalation contributed to the development of enlarged brain ventricles, something commonly associated with neurodevelopmental disorders. Ventriculomegaly, as it is called, has been associated with autism, Alzheimer’s disease and schizophrenia. Dr. Deborah Cory-Slechta, professor at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and the panel’s organizer, hopes that their work can impact pollution regulations. “[The research] could change those regulations and lower them hopefully so that people aren’t exposed,” she says.

In the U.S., one out of every 88 children are now diagnosed as having an autism spectrum disorder, and the disability affects all races and socioeconomic groups. Autism is generally characterized by deficits in social interaction, deficits in both verbal and nonverbal communication, focused interests, and repetitive behavior, according to the Deron School, a school for special needs children.

What exactly causes autism, other than potentially air pollution? So far, its origins remain largely unclear to researchers. In the late 1990s, Andrew Wakefield published a claim that vaccines cause everything from measles to autism. Several years later, though, his work was discredited and exposed as fraud, leaving many empty-handed for an explanation as to autism prevalence.

Arshya Vahabzadeh, a child psychologist who is a clinical fellow at Harvard, says that autism occurs “probably due to a variety of factors, including genetic and environmental influences” and can’t easily be linked to just one trigger point. He points out that, while genetic studies can explain about 20% of autism cases, there is no one gene responsible even then — rather, it’s likely the result of hundreds of interacting genes. Hopefully, the future will yield more clues as to what, exactly, autism’s origins are.

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