The Concord Monitor is launching its Environmental Reporting Lab, a long-term effort to better inform the community about the New Hampshire environment. To launch phase 1 of this effort, we need your help. The money raised will go toward hiring a full-time environmental reporter.

Please consider donating to this effort.


Need to learn cause of autism is urgent

Last modified: 4/6/2012 12:00:00 AM
Last week, the federal Centers for Disease Control released the results of its latest study on the increased incidence of autism. Its report was frightening. It raised the increase in the prevalence of autism by 78 percent, from 1 in 150 births to 1 in 88. On average, 1 in every 252 girls and 1 in every 54 boys born today will be diagnosed with the neurological disorder. Some of the increase is the result of an increase in autism awareness, screening and diagnosis, but not all of it. The cause of autism remains a mystery that must be solved.

In 2008 New Hampshire became the second state in the nation to create an autism registry and require professionals who make that diagnosis to report their findings. The total number of New Hampshire residents diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder isn't known. But between July 1, 2010, and June 30, 2011, the state registered 107 children, most between the ages of 3 and 8, with the disorder.

Each child diagnosed with an autism disorder will cost the nation an average of $3.2 million in lost income and the need for medical services and long term care, according to a 2006 study. The total annual cost in the United States alone, according to a new study released by Autism Speaks, the largest autism advocacy and research organization, is $126 billion, a sum that includes the lost family income and productivity of autism victims and their families as well as the cost of care.

"At 1 in 88, let me be clear, the United States is experiencing an autism epidemic. We are dealing with a national emergency that needs a national strategy," Mark Roithmayr, president of Autism Speaks, said at a speech at the CDC in Atlanta.

The nation can't afford to lose the contributions of more than 1 percent of its citizens. It can't afford to allow autism to go untreated or under-treated. Early help is crucial for autism sufferers, two-thirds of whom have no cognitive impairment, to maximize their potential and lead as normal a life as possible.

The median age at which autism sufferers are diagnosed is now 4, but ideally a diagnosis should be made by age 2. Greater awareness on the part of parents, child-care workers and medical providers is needed.

The cause or causes of autism, which includes Asperger syndrome, pervasive developmental disorder and other diagnoses, must be determined. Federal funding for research has increased significantly, but more needs to be done to determine both the cause of the disorder and the best way to treat it.

A number of chemicals are known to cause neurological disorders, including autism. Is their presence in the environment responsible for the increase? There appears to be a genetic component to autism, but how strong is it?

At least one study found a strong link between the use of antidepressants like Prozac and Zoloft by pregnant women and an increased likelihood of bearing a child that would suffer from autism. The study, which was reported in the Archives of General Psychiatry, found a four-fold increase in the likelihood of bearing an autistic child for women who used one class of antidepressants in the first trimester of pregnancy.

Are the study's findings correct? Some studies suggest that the incidence of autism increases with socioeconomic status. Others have found no correlation. Which is correct? All these questions and more need answers, and the cost of searching for them pales next to the cost of allowing the autism epidemic to worsen.


Support Local Journalism

Subscribe to the Concord Monitor, recently named the best paper of its size in New England.

Concord Monitor Office

1 Monitor Drive
Concord,NH 03301


© 2021 Concord Monitor
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy