[Note: As stated in associated editorials, “If all of the increased exposure of genetically vulnerable children to this environmental trigger associated with precipitation were eliminated, the 2005 autism prevalence rate in these counties would be 33% to 43% lower. These results could potentially be explained by any environmental exposure associated with indoor activities” or reduced vitamin D levels.]
Objective: To investigate empirically the possibility of an environmental trigger for autism among genetically vulnerable children that is positively associated with precipitation.
Design: We used regression analysis to investigate autism prevalence rates and counts first in relation to mean annual county-level precipitation and then to the amount of precipitation a birth cohort was exposed to when younger than 3 years, controlling for time trend, population size, per capita income, and demographic characteristics. In some models, we included county fixed-effects rather than a full set of covariates.
Setting: Counties in California, Oregon, and Washington.
Participants: Children born in California, Oregon, and Washington between 1987 and 1999.
Main Exposure: County-level precipitation.
Main Outcome Measures: County-level autism prevalence rates and counts.
Results: County-level autism prevalence rates and counts among school-aged children were positively associated with a county's mean annual precipitation. Also, the amount of precipitation a birth cohort was exposed to when younger than 3 years was positively associated with subsequent autism prevalence rates and counts in Oregon counties and California counties with a regional developmental services center.
Conclusions: These results are consistent with the existence of an environmental trigger for autism among genetically vulnerable children that is positively associated with precipitation. Further studies focused on establishing whether such a trigger exists and identifying the specific trigger are warranted.
Source: Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, Nov 2008; 162(11): 1026-1034. Waldman M, Nicholson S, Adilov N, Williams, J. Johnson Graduate School of Management and Department of Policy Analysis and Management, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York; Department of Economics, Indiana University–Purdue University, Fort Wayne; Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA. [E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org]