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Study: Social influence playing role in surging autism diagnoses
Date:4/8/2010

Social influence plays a substantial role in the surging number of autism diagnoses, according to a study published in the American Journal of Sociology.

The study, by researchers from the Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy at Columbia University, found that children living near a child who has been previously diagnosed with autism have a much higher chance of being diagnosed themselves in the following year. The increased likelihood of being diagnosed is not due to environmental factors or contagious agents, the study found. Rather, it is due mainly to parents learning about autism from other parents who have a child diagnosed with the disorder.

"We show that the likelihood of getting an autism diagnosis is clearly associated with person-to-person transmission of information," said Peter Bearman, a sociologist who authored the study along with Ka-Yuet Liu and Marissa King. "Parents learn about autism and its symptoms; learn about doctors who are able to diagnose it; and learn how to navigate the process of obtaining a diagnosis and services from parents who have already been through the process with their own child."

The researchers stress that the results do not mean that autism is not real or that it is overdiagnosed. "Our study doesn't address the underlying cause of autism," Dr. Bearman said. "We are describing the mechanism by which the number of diagnoses is increasing. It could be that the real incidence of the disorder is only now being uncovered. I think that is a reasonable message from this paper."

In California, where this study was conducted, the number of autism cases handled by the California Department of Developmental Services increased 636 percent between 1987 and 2003.

The Columbia University team looked at data on over 300,000 children born between 1997 and 2003 throughout California. The team found that children who live within 250 meters of a child with autism have a 4
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Contact: Kevin Stacey
kstacey@press.uchicago.edu
773-834-0386
University of Chicago Press Journals
Source:Eurekalert

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