The Autistic Journalist

Using words to explain the mind

Spewing newborn babies quickly? Study says autism risk increases

with 2 comments

A Columbia University study discovered something that might make “Octomom” or other parents eager to have several kids pause for a moment: Children conceived less than 12 months after an older sibling is born are three times more likely to develop an autism diagnosis. According to the study, which documented 662,730 second-born California children from 1992 to 2002, the multiplied risk doesn’t subside until at least 23 months have passed. While no data was found suggesting an explanation for the statistical findings, medical experts assert that the risk of actually developing the disability is still low. The study was conducted because authors noticed previous research revealing an association between short intervals and other brain problems, including schizophrenia.

Because the study focused on finding a link and not the factors increasing a child’s likelihood of developing autism, the only speculation offered was nutritional deficiencies that appear in the years immediately following the birth of a child. While this offers little insight about the research, the timing is notable considering my post two days ago when WCCO mentioned the pause parents are having about vaccinating their children. When factoring the overall risk of developing autism, the percentage is low, with current estimates around 1%. However, most journalists and editors will gloss over that specific number in favor of flashy, attention-getting figures. In fact, it’s a pattern you’ll see on most reports about studies; the percentage difference is listed, usually in multiples (twice, three times, four times a likely, etc.), but the overall percentage is never calculated.

The lack of statistical detail often irks me when I read or watch stories on studies because reporters rarely put new findings into perspective. No reference point is often an ingredient in driving the news audience to a state of paranoia, because the audience is more likely to ignore the 1% chance of a child developing autism and see a flashing LED sign about the three-fold increase for children conceived less than a year after their first-born.

To be fair, Linda Carroll, who published MSNBC’s version of the story, does acknowledge the potential of scaring parents-to-be by including figures on the recommended intervals for multiple kids. She also quotes two medical professionals who advise people maintain their common sense about deciding to have a child. Such anecdotes are generally included in reports about studies that could carry significant implications to people’s health. Also stressed are the unanswered variables the study hasn’t accounted for, which only means further research lies ahead, leading to more questions as the search for factors that increase a risk of autism continues.

I’m the oldest of 4, and I’m sorry to say I’m the only screw-up of the bunch :-P. While more questions than answers are revealed by this study, it symbolizes autism’s increasing saturation with Americans as several outlets picked up the study. This may also provide more evidence to organizations who recommend a more patient stance (including the World Health Organization) to ensure the best health for both mother and child. Ultimately, there will always be a risk of something when giving birth, but that hasn’t stopped most parents (and more shady figures) from “laying their eggs.” Journalists would be advised to hatch more stories about the Columbia University study for future use.

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Written by TheSportsBrain

January 10, 2011 at 4:57 pm

2 Responses

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  1. Fascinating. I really hope that they will do the follow up studies and see if they can hash out a molecular basis for this.

    Caudoviral

    January 10, 2011 at 5:06 pm

  2. When I saw this story covered on Left Brain Right Brain I paused quite a bit too.

    I thought … well, it might be possible.

    Temple Grandin made an interesting observation in her chapter “Einstein’s Second Cousin”. She also is the eldest of four, and her sister followed very closely on her (18 months younger). Then Cutler and Grandin waited to have two more children.

    I really enjoyed the humour in the last paragraph.

    Adelaide Dupont

    January 11, 2011 at 6:06 pm


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