The alarming rise in autism rates in the U.S. and some other developed nations is one of the most anguishing mysteries of modern medicine — and the source of much desperate speculation by parents. In 1970, its incidence was thought to be just 1 in 2,500; today about 1 in 170 kids born in the U.S. fall somewhere on the autism spectrum.The problem is, nobody can say for sure what has caused that increase. Some say that it is the mercury-based preservative in vaccines and others say it has only increased due to broader definitions and better detection, not actual incidence.
Now, however, a study has been released that seems to show a correlation between TV watching prior to age 3 and autism. Causation seems to be a little trickier to nail down, but the study is certainly intriguing. The hypothesis does seem to make sense. Gregg Easterbrook pondered approximately a month ago (prior to the study's release),
The autism rise began around 1980, about the same time cable television and VCRs became common, allowing children to watch television aimed at them any time. Since the brain is organizing during the first years of life and since human beings evolved responding to three-dimensional stimuli, I wondered if exposing toddlers to lots of colorful two-dimensional stimulation could be harmful to brain development.Now, he notes,
Cornell University researchers are reporting what appears to be a statistically significant relationship between autism rates and television watching...The Cornell study represents a potential bombshell in the autism debate.Needless to say, not all reaction to the study has been positive. Further research will tell whether a new piece of evidence has indeed been found in puzzling together the mystery of autism.
But could our proclivity to babysit via video be damaging our children? It is worth wondering.