You've probably seen a lot of headlines lately about autism and various behaviors, ways of being, or "toxins" that, the headlines tell you, are "linked" to it. Maybe you're considering having a child and are mentally tallying up the various risk factors you have as a parent. Perhaps you have a child with autism and are now looking back, loaded with guilt that you ate high-fructose corn syrup or were overweight or too old or too near a freeway or not something enough that led to your child's autism.
Maybe you're an autistic adult who's getting a little tired of reading in these stories about how you don't exist or how using these "risk factors" might help the world reduce the number of people who are like you.Here's the bottom line: No one knows precisely what causes the extremely diverse developmental difference we call autism.
Research from around the world suggests a strong genetic component. What headlines in the United States call an "epidemic" is, in all likelihood, largely attributable to expanded diagnostic inclusion, better identification, and, ironically, greater awareness of autism. In countries that have been able to assess overall population prevalence, such as the UK, rates seem to have held steady at about 1% for decades, which is about the current levels now identified among 8-year-olds in the United States.
What anyone needs when it comes to headlines honking about a "link" to a specific condition is a mental checklist of what the article -- and whatever research underlies it -- is really saying. Previously, Double X Science brought you Real vs Fake Science: How to tell them apart. Now we bring you our Double X Double-Takechecklist. Use it when you read any story about scientific research and human health, medicine, biology, or genetics.The Double X Double-Take: What to do when reading science in the news
1. Skip the headline. Headlines are often misleading, at best, and can be wildly inaccurate. Forget about the headline. Pretend you never even saw the headline.
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