This has got to be fake, right? Could children living in high-precipitation areas be more likely to have autism? Sure, like people living near volcanoes are more likely to be bald. Oh, I see the connection….not. There couldn’t possibly be a link. Or could there be?
According to preliminary study results from an article published in November (2008) Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine there appears to be a connection between the wet stuff and the disorder characterized by impaired social interaction, problems with verbal and nonverbal communication, and unusual, repetitive, or severely limited activities and interests.
The study performed by Cornell University researchers focused on California, Washington, and Oregon. They obtained autism prevalence rates for children born between 1987 and 1999 and calculated average annual precipitation by county. They also computed the autism rates in relation to the average annual precipitation in the counties when the children were younger than 3.
Counties that received relatively large amounts of precipitation had a relatively high rate of autism. For example, counties with four times as much precipitation had an autism rate that was twice as high as other counties in the region even after correcting for other factors like socioeconomic status.
Of course the findings may have nothing to do with the rainfall or snow itself, but rather factors associated with the precipitation, such as the need to stay indoors more. Environmental possibilities related to spending more time indoors include chemical exposure to cleaning products, TV viewing, or vitamin D deficiency from too little sunlight.
In the past 30 years, the rates of autism have increased from about one in 2,500 children to one in 150. Some of the increase is attributed to a broadened definition of autism and the autistic spectrum, and an increased sensitivity in the ability to make the diagnosis. Linkages of autism to vaccination have failed to stand up to scientific scrutiny. The possibility still exists that autism involves an interaction of genetics and environmental factors and luckily, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has launched a long-term study to find the causes of autism and other childhood conditions.
Could it be that chemicals in the atmosphere are transported to the surface by the rain and fall to the Earth affecting our children? Sure. But by no means should the findings of this study be taken as a reason to skip town with autistic kids in tow heading for a new life in the desert. The results are not definitive evidence of a precipitation-autism link or any other link for that matter. They are, however, consistent with a hypothesis, and further research focused on establishing whether a connection exists is warranted.