New Study Pursues Causes of Autism

A new longitudinal study is working toward something that has eluded scientists for years, even as rates of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders has risen sharply: insight into the causes of autism.

USA Today reports:

Recently, scientists have found a number of risk factors for autism, many of which point toward problems that develop very early in life — such as during pregnancy or delivery, or even during the process of creating eggs and sperm, says Craig Newschaffer, a professor at Philadelphia's Drexel University.

To better understand causes of autism, researchers at four major universities are following 1,200 mothers of autistic children through the EARLI study, or the Early Autism Risk Longitudinal Investigation. Because researchers know that these mothers are at high risk of having a second autistic child, they closely follow the women's subsequent pregnancies, testing blood, urine, hair, even vacuuming dust from the women's homes, says Newschaffer, one of the study's lead researchers. Researchers ask pregnant women to keep lists of any illnesses, because infections during pregnancy are suspected of playing a role in autism.

Doctors can reassure parents that one thing doesn't cause autism: vaccines, says Paul Offit, chief of infectious diseases at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Nearly two dozen studies have failed to find a link between autism and vaccines, whether given alone or in combination.

Image: Scientist in lab, via Shutterstock.

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