Special Needs Now

My Problem With Studies About the Causes of Disability

Autism studies

This week alone, I read about two different studies on the causes of autism. One study, published in Environmental Journal, linked an increased risk of developing autism to fine-particle air pollution (basically, dust, dirt, soot, and smoke). The other, a study based on data from more than 5.7 million in five countries, confirmed what previous research has shown: Kids born to older moms and dads have higher rates of autism.

Meanwhile, a couple of weeks ago I read about a major Australian study that revealed up to 45 percent of cases of cerebral palsy (what my son, Max, has) have genetic causes.

I don't know about you, but as the parent of a kid with disability, I found the influx of causality studies alarming. Because they make you wonder why more money isn't being devoted to helping kids with autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, and other disabilities—especially when the studies involve factors over which the average person has little control, such as air pollution.

This year, for the first time in history, language in support of the prevention, treatment, and cure of cerebral palsy was included in the federal budget—along with "improving the opportunity for recovery of those already diagnosed" wording. It is the first time, notes the nonprofit Reaching for the Stars, that a cerebral palsy five-year strategic plan will be developed by the National Institutes of Health/National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. I literally cheered out loud when I found out.

Perhaps if I did not have a child with disability, I'd be more focused on the causes (although I'd likely also be fearful based on the many causes that have been established for autism). But I do have a kid with disability, a very awesome kid. I want to enable him any possible way. Where are all the studies on the best methods for helping kids with gross- and fine-motor skills? Where are the studies on the best tactics for soothing a child with sensory issues? Where are the studies on the best ways to teach kids with cognitive impairment?

Obviously, researchers will continue to do their research thing, digging into the causes of disability. But I certainly hope to see more studies that are all about helping, and less about the why.

Ellen Seidman is a mom of two, editor, and professional snacker who blogs daily at Love That Max. You can find her pondering special needs parenthood and other important topics (such as what her next snack will be) on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Google+ even though she still hasn't totally figured out what that is.

Image of stethescope on papers via Shutterstock

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