Researchers floored after study links autism to vinyl

Submitted by bobb on Tue, 7/4/2009 - 16:08

6/04/2009 12:00:00 AM

Children who live in homes with vinyl flooring have double the chance of being autistic, research has discovered.

The finding which amazed even the scientists conducting the study provides one of the first clues as to a possible cause of the condition.

The study, by scientists in Sweden, Denmark and the United States, stumbled across the connection almost by accident.

It is being taken seriously because autism has long been thought to result from environmental factors.

Between 133,000 and 200,000 British children are thought to be autistic, but nobody knows for sure, or whether their numbers are increasing, because they are not counted.

But the numbers of babies born with the condition in California has risen more than seven times in the past two decades, convincing scientists that pollution must be to blame.

The new research, which traced nearly 5000 Swedish children from infancy to at least six years old, set out to investigate links between air pollution and asthma and other allergies.


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While I do not argue against the possibility of environmental factors playing roles in the development of autism (refer my post about fluoride), I wish to point out some important considerations that should be made when the media releases articles such as these.

Only one of these articles gave an alternate view that suggested caution, or reflected a hint of critical analysis of the research findings. The research only shows a possible correlation - it does not show direct causation. Correlations can occur due to any factor. For example, the fact that autism rates are higher in households which have vinyl flooring might simply reflect the lower socio-economic status of families who struggle due to the financial realities of having family member/s with the condition. They possibly cannot afford the more expensive flooring. Does it mean the flooring caused the autism? One should also note the other indicated correlations - mothers who smoke, poor ventilation due to inadequate resources, and poor economic circumstances. These all fit in with one possible explanation being merely an association of poor economic circumstances with autism. Something most of us would not argue with at all.

The debate about environmental factors does deserve media attention, but should not be taken out of context or without critical appraisal and common sense. Otherwise the autistic community runs a risk of being misled and accused of leaping to conclusions, or of creating popular myths. This doesn't do anyone any favours when seeking answers, it  contributes to stigma, and creates negative perceptions regarding the value of scientific research.So my view on this news is "Approach with Caution".