The Autistic Journalist

Using words to explain the mind

Posts Tagged ‘risk

Spewing newborn babies quickly? Study says autism risk increases

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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

Act your age

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The New York Times reported a study released by the journal Autism Research earlier this week suggesting that older mothers are more likely to have an autistic child and older fathers also increase the risk when his partner is under 30.

The research was conducted on five million births in California during the 1990s, with 12,159 of those children receiving an autism diagnosis. Fathers 40 or older who had children with mothers 30 or younger increased the risk of having an autistic child by 59%.

The new study may challenge previous research that linked a higher rate of autism with advancing paternal age, but not with advancing maternal age. However, the authors said that alone doesn’t account for the sevenfold rise in autism cases in the 1990s.

Studies are notoriously long, tedious and often can’t account for every variable due to lack of resources, and even though the results may bring new answers for the causes of autism, most in the know about the disability are aware of the hasty increase of autism diagnoses in the last decade. However, since we’re only a month and a half into the new decade, it’s unlikely we’ll know about any changes that took place from 2000-2009 for some time. When published, studies will often note potential fallacies of the published findings and/or list the methods used to obtain them, so other studies on the same topic can use them as a reference. Studies have a similar structure to film and TV documentaries; they’re not meant to be an end-point to specific issues, but another piece to solve a very long puzzle.

One such drawback is the sample size. While over 12,000 California newborns were examined in the study, that leaves out 49 states. It’s safe to say autism increased in those states and there’s enough to theorize that similar increases regarding autism and parental age happened at other states, but at what levels?

The story isn’t getting much buzz outside The New York Times. Super Bowl XLIV is a likely culprit, with reports on its record-breaking ratings (passing the M*A*S*H* finale as the most-watched TV program in history). Another could involve the nature of media coverage itself. Local, national and 24-hour cable news often blitzkrieg major headlines throughout the day, but don’t offer many updates in a 24-hour period. Seeing the effects of swine flu saturating airwaves last spring, avian flu a few years ago, and the endless amount of information coming in after 9/11, we should consider ourselves lucky. In situations that threaten security, the reaction from the herd is often panic, and hyping the finding of the study may only add another fear about having a child.

I believe the lack of attention to the new study is caused more by other big news stories than a conscientious decision by news producers to avoid overloading consumers; we’ve seen little change from news outlets to suggest they’ll handle the news more intellectually this decade than they did in the previous one.

Written by TheSportsBrain

February 10, 2010 at 12:41 am