Oct
17
2006

Is autism linked to television?

Sucked in: Will this harm your development?
Sucked in: Will this harm your development?

Autism is a serious concern in our country today, with 1 out of every 166 children diagnosed with some form of the disorder. But could the sharp rise in Autism (it was only 1 in 2500 30 years ago) be linked to the increased prevalence of TV in our homes? Economists from Cornell University say that the data shows a pretty strong correlation.

Michael Waldman and Sean Nicholson looked at populations in California, Oregon, and Washington using the Department of Labor's American Time Use Survey. They compared this information with clinical autism data and found a statistically significant correlation between and increase in early childhood hours spent watching TV and autism rates.

Is that science?

Well, the authors of the study will be the first to say that this isn't definitive proof that TV causes autism (or that autism causes TV...sorry, bad joke). And these guys are economists looking at population data not medical scientists studying individuals with autism. But that doesn't mean this study is without merit. Something in our environment causes autism and we don't really know what it is. I support any unique thought on the subject that gives us new research questions to evaluate.

Do you have a story or thought on autism? Have you heard of other possible causes of autism?

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

bryan kennedy's picture

One of the most interesting things I read in this article is that preliminary looks at Amish populations show a disproportionately small number of autistic children. There wasn't enough data to say that autism occurs less in Amish populations but that also would be an interesting thing to study.

posted on Tue, 10/17/2006 - 6:48am
James Satter's picture

It's always important not to jump to conclusions about causal relationships and correlations. Social withdrawl is one of the defining chracteristics of autism, so it doesn't sound surprising that children with autism might spend a disproportionately large amount of time watching TV.

Amish communities, on the other hand, usually have few (if any) televisions and apparently have relatively few reported cases of autism. But some disorders and diseases, such as clinical depression, are disproportionately high among the Amish. Yet that inverse correlation doesn't mean that TV viewing helps to cure depression.

posted on Thu, 10/19/2006 - 8:21pm
Liza's picture
Liza says:

Like Bryan said, these guys are economists, not neurologists.

There is a growing body of evidence that suggests that autism is actually a genetic disorder, possibly linked to older fathers (similar to the link between older mothers and Down's syndrome). Certainly lots of folks are becoming parents later in life, so that might account for part of the upswing.

And the Amish are a relatively genetically isolated community, so I'm not surprised to hear that certain traits are overrepresented while others might be underrepresented. And they tend to start their families earlier than the American public at large...

posted on Thu, 10/19/2006 - 9:36pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

When my autistic son was born, I was 28 and my husband was 31. First case of autism in the family (lucky us). It's not necessarily caused by "older" parents.

posted on Wed, 12/19/2007 - 4:46pm
Liza's picture
Liza says:

I'm sorry about your son. And you're right: a correlation is not a cause. The real trick is figuring out WHY there's a correlation between older fathers and autism. And if scientists can do that, they may be able to determine both a cause and a cure, or at least more effective therapies.

posted on Wed, 12/19/2007 - 5:39pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Through research, I've found the occurance of major depression among the amish, is significantly lower than the general population. Where did you get that?

posted on Mon, 06/11/2007 - 2:54pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Amish have significantly lower cases of major depression.

posted on Mon, 06/11/2007 - 2:59pm
ARTiFactor's picture
ARTiFactor says:

Neurons are still being "wired up" for years after birth (before birth, too). This means that a child's environmental inputs effects this hard wiring. Exposure to music or languages result in that brain having an advantages later in life dealing with manipulating music or that language. Reacting to inputs (two way interaction) might be hardwired to some extent, too. TV is not very interactive so not interacting to inputs might be what results.
I spent hundreds of hours providing daycare for my nephew who has Aspergers (from age two till he started school). He excelled verbally. His first word was spaghetti.

posted on Tue, 10/17/2006 - 1:48pm
Liza's picture
Liza says:

Researchers at the University of Washington Autism Center in Seattle have found that adults with autism have areas of their brains that don't communicate well with each other.

Neurologist Michael Murias and colleagues used high-resolution EEG to look at the brains of 18 people with autism, and 18 people without the condition. They found "weak connectivity between the frontal lobe and the rest of the cortex. They also found [in people with autism] that neural connectivity was elevated within the left hemisphere temporal and frontal regions, suggesting a possible focus for autism-related language deficits."

These findings (which were presented at the Neuroscience 2006 Meeting), if supported by other research, could provide definitive markers for autism, with implications for diagnosis and early intervention for young children with autism spectrum disorders.

Here's an earlier study that found similar connectivity issues in children.

There is still no good evidence for the CAUSE of autism, however...

posted on Thu, 10/19/2006 - 10:17am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Not sure we should be promoting an anti-television agenda by creating fear.....

Fear as a tool to shape public opinion is not proper......Sounds awfully Bush-esque!

posted on Thu, 10/19/2006 - 12:19pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

hi i don't think that autisum is linked to watching to much tv

posted on Thu, 10/19/2006 - 12:29pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Well, more and more studies are showing that television may be the "on switch" to autism.As a person who has worked with a lot of autistic children, it is impossible to ignore the extreme amount of television consumption I have seen. Please stay open to this research, as that it might be legitimate.At the very least, television is not good for any child.

posted on Mon, 12/04/2006 - 5:15pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

How did you discover that autismm may be linked to watching too much t.v? Also how much tv do you think is too much? Please reply.

posted on Thu, 10/19/2006 - 12:46pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

I think that to much tv could be so much that just watching it you seem to have a control on you that you want and seem to need more.

posted on Thu, 10/19/2006 - 1:28pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

I am always surprised by the number of interesting conjectures that are made about the causes of autism. Actually, it would be best to read some actual research or as one man noted--work with the population. You will find that they are as varied as the rest of the population. The characteristics are many, which makes each one an individual to be interacted with differently. Once all the research is in, I suspect that they will find that there is not just one cause. There are many roads to the same destination. I know from personal experience that the precursors in place prior to three years old are not the same for each child with autism. Many people watch a great deal of TV, for example. Is that going to make them contract autism? I think not.

posted on Fri, 10/20/2006 - 5:50am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

autism is a medical condition most likely caused by a genetic presdispostion to decreased detoxification capablities with the trigger being toxic doses of mercury given in the form of the preservtive thimerosol in childhood vaccines.

autism is treatable see www.safeminds

posted on Fri, 10/20/2006 - 12:29pm
Liza's picture
Liza says:

Sorry. I know a lot of people agree with you, but your statement is, at this point anyway, scientifically untrue.

First of all, most childhood vaccines in the US no longer contain thimerosal, and yet the number of autism diagnoses is growing.

Second, many, many studies done in different countries over DECADES have tried to find a link between autism and thimerosal or other vaccine ingredients, and they've been unable to do so. The very few studies that have found a positive correllation have been called into question, ethically and scientifically.

Third, autism is NOT treatable in a curative sense. Early intervention, behavior modification, and other forms of therapy may help some autistic individuals reach their potential. And some people with autism have a lot of potential--just look at Temple Grandin, for example. She's pretty darn amazing.

But there are a lot of scam artists out there, preying on the desperation of families with autistic members, that claim to "cure" autism through expensive and ineffective treatments like various homeopathic "remedies" or "detoxifiers."

Right now, no one knows what causes autism. And there is no "cure."

Thanks for writing.

posted on Fri, 10/20/2006 - 1:50pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

autism is caused by mercury, the chemicle not the planet, and who came up with the idea that television causes autism? Mercury does, end of story.

posted on Fri, 10/20/2006 - 5:55pm
Liza's picture
Liza says:

Unfortunately, that's NOT the end of the story. Would that it were, because then we'd be able to stem the tide and possibly cure it. But all the scientific evidence to date suggests that some other factor, and perhaps a combination of factors, are to blame.

posted on Sun, 10/22/2006 - 10:25pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Well, it could just as well be that rainy days cause autism. Or not spending enough time outside. Doesn't necessarily have to be television. We should look at this factor though, through a more scientific study with controls and all. I don't think the Amish count as a control, since, as someone else pointed out, they are a somewhat genetically isolated community which has a high incidence of certain rare genetic disorders, and a low incidence of others more common in the rest of the population. You'd have to choose other non-TV viewers.

In the meantime, turn the tube off. I don't have one, and only occasionally miss it. Television may not be the root of all evil, but in my opinion it promotes shallow thinking and a short attention span, due to the nature of the short episodes and the fact that you don't interact with it. It also causes inactivity, which leads to weight gain. Though the same could be said for the internet;).

Your kids don't need television. You don't need television. Turn it off and keep it off, except for maybe an occasional movie or pre-taped educational episode.

posted on Sun, 10/22/2006 - 7:46pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

There may be a genetic predisposition, but television is probably the environmental factor that sends it into motion. All pediatric foundations all of the world say NO televison for chidlren under three years old. Somebody should sue those baby einstien videos - WATCHING T.V. IS NOT GOOD FOR CHILDREN UNDER AGE 3 - NO T.V. !!! Got it?

posted on Fri, 12/15/2006 - 9:50pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

sheesh...you have serious issues...first of all its not televisions fault its the parents because they should be the oe who are responsible for what their kids see...besides there are a lot of good shows out there that are gear towards little kids...get a life whoevver you are

posted on Sat, 12/16/2006 - 5:02pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Mercury was a convenient scapegoat but, since there hasn't been mercury in vaccines in this country for approximately 3-years and my son was just diagnosed with PDDNOS (atypical austism), it is no longer amond the "usual suspects".

Even if that wasn't the case, one would have to have serious conspiracy issues (I do and I don't even buy it anymore) to think that ALL of the studies that have shown no legitimate link between vaccines and autism are bogus or a product of those who want to "hide the truth".

My son has watched an endless array of Baby Einstein videos, however.

posted on Thu, 01/04/2007 - 8:24pm
Liza's picture
Liza says:

This Time article suggests that the autism "epidemic" isn't really an epidemic at all, but instead a spike in diagnoses caused by a variety of factors.

The line that really got me thinking was, "Where are all the adults with fetal alcohol syndrome?" No one over 40 has FAS because the condition was only recognized during the mid-70s, and there's been a spike in diagnoses since then. But surely pregnant alcoholics existed long before we had a name for the effect alcohol can cause, so what were we calling FAS before it was FAS?

posted on Tue, 01/16/2007 - 2:40pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

In the early 70's I recall a senior pharmacist that was certain that excessive iron was a link to SIDS, it certainly makes sense to me that mercury could be linked to Autism.
If you think about it our brain is regulated such by chemicals that it only seems right that a defect or abnormality in that delicate chemical balance would cause such things as Autism, SIDS, down syndrome, parkinsens disease etc.
Will we ever really know?

posted on Tue, 01/16/2007 - 6:49pm
Liza's picture
Liza says:

I have faith that, yes, one day we will.

There's a lot of research going on about all of these conditions you list, with major findings about Parkinson's, autism, and SIDS in the last year.

posted on Tue, 01/16/2007 - 9:39pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

TV or childhood vaccinations don't explain why autism is found more often in males...so testosterone is to blame. Stop watching the Superbowl on TV and the problem is solved!

posted on Wed, 02/07/2007 - 3:52pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

It may be inconvenient or unpopular in our American culture to look at things that are parts of our daily lives as culprits to certain conditions. We need to keep an open mind that it may be a contributing factor but maybe not a direct cause.

I am pretty sure that we will find that it is not just one isolated problem such as TV or additives in food or medicines, etc. It is most likely a combo of genes and lifestyles that allow things to blossom. That is probably the most balanced way to look at it in the light of no firm scientific conclusions.

As a note most pediatric societies in this country and other countries recommend that children under two years of age do not need any television.

posted on Tue, 02/20/2007 - 11:58am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

this is awsome

posted on Mon, 06/11/2007 - 3:54pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

I think anyone can have depression and any type of person can get it.

posted on Mon, 06/11/2007 - 3:55pm
Melissa's picture
Melissa says:

TV did not cause the belly aches my autistic son began to suffer as his autism set in. TV did not cause the constipation and diarrhea. TV did not reach out and steal from him the few words he was beginning to use. TV did not cause the constant crying he would do as the autism began to take hold of him. TV did not cause him to become the pickiest eater on Earth. TV did not steal his relationship with his loved ones. What did? I would sell my soul for the answer or the solution. Zenith and RCA haven't made me any offers yet.

posted on Tue, 06/12/2007 - 10:41pm
Linda's picture
Linda says:

This discussion fascinates me. Autism is something I had never understood. I think that it is a personality disorder, whereby the individual REACTS to his environment, by withdrawing. Whether the cause if a delicate sensory network, or an extreme reaction to the DELUGE of sensory input, and UNCONTROLLABLE violence that occurs in our world.

I think their tiny brains, just cannot take it. The rebellion inside is CREATED to occupy them while they continuously reject OUR WORLD. I think it is possibly curable, given the individual, and the possibility to CALM THEIR WORLD. Maybe they are psychically tuned in to others, their thoughts, their feelings and their stresses.

Just a thought.

Over-diagnosis is often a problem in children. Like ADD, the more you look for it, the more you find.

Maybe Autism is just OCD, developed at a REALLY EARLY AGE.

posted on Wed, 06/13/2007 - 10:57am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

I can not believe what people will say to try to put the blame on parents that have children who have disabilities. TV-give me a break! As much TV as our population watches, most people would be walking around with Autism., So, even if it could explain a delay in speech, what about sensory issues, repeditive movements, fine motor delays, food adversions, not to mention stomach ailments, minimal eye contact, focus problems, and numerous other symptoms children with Autism face. Get real and stop it with the made up excuses for something you obviosly know nothing about-get informed about all the symptoms of Autism, and get your facts straight before you publically humiliate yourself again!

posted on Wed, 07/25/2007 - 7:59pm
Gene's picture
Gene says:

Go back and read the original post. It does not blame parents. It does not even blame TV. It simply reports on a study, and asks for comments.

Public self-humiliation is more common than you may realize.

posted on Wed, 07/25/2007 - 10:37pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

It does blame parents! That's what's so sad. First the "experts" tell us that it's caused by older parents (then how come parents in their twenties give birth to autistic kids?) and now TV. I know people that smoked and dranked all throughout their pregnancies, parked their kids in front of the tube while they smoked and drank around them, and their kids are perfectly normal. Go figure. My son was "normal" until his MMR vaccine.

posted on Wed, 12/19/2007 - 4:55pm
Liza's picture
Liza says:

The post you're referring to, about a correlation between older parents and autistic children, was mine. I don't think that the researchers are blaming parents, and certainly parental age doesn't "cause" autism. There is, however, a correlation. And figuring out exactly WHY children born to older fathers run a higher risk of autism than other kids might, someday, lead to a cure or better therapies for ALL kids with autism.

Symptoms of autism tend to become noticeable right around a child's second birthday. Which is also when the MMR shot is given. But doctors say that autism symptoms, if you know what to look for, are actually visible much earlier--before any child is given the MMR vaccine.

Some people are lousy parents, and have great kids with no physical or neurological issues. Some people are great parents, but their kids are challenged in a variety of ways. It's not fair, and it's not your fault. But autism's not the fault of the MMR vaccine, either.

posted on Wed, 12/19/2007 - 6:24pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

My son has autism and he has significantly improved in the past 6months. We found he had antithryoid antibodies in his blood. He was checked by the doctor due to the fact that many mothers with autoimmune diseases have autistic children. I have Graves disease. My husband was 45 years old when I conceived. My son is currently on Armour Thyroid, his behavior has improved, he is understanding concepts he was never able to understand before. He is improving in his cognitive ability. He has become independent at school whereas before he needed much direction. His teachers give him glowing reports every week. He is in an autistic class. He is not 100% perfect but he has come a long way in just a short period of time. His doctors say his levels should be normal in about 6 more months. He is attending occupational therapy for sensory issues and counseling. It is worth checking out if your autistic child has antithyroid antibodies and if they do, take them to a good endocrinologist. Even though the thyroid levels may be normal, the thyroid antibodies don't allow the level of active thyroid to be used. The thyroid is the master gland of the body and if the brain is lacking in the thyroid hormone it cannot function correctly. Only natural thyroid like Armour has the full complement of thyroid hormone to improve this condition. I hope this information might help someone. It sure has made a huge difference with my son. I would also like to say, my son became very sick after receiving several childhood vaccines at the age of 18 months. He ran a high fever and after that he seemed to not develop on schedule. I am blood type 0- and had to receive Rhogam when I was pregnant. It was the 4th time I had received the Rhogam. I have three children and the other two are not autistic.

posted on Thu, 03/12/2009 - 5:35pm

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