UC Davis study shows autism clusters in "educated" areas of California

Daily Democrat

Researchers at UC Davis have identified ten locations in California where the incidence of autism is higher than surrounding areas in the same region.

Most of the areas, or clusters, are in places where parents have higher-than-average levels of education, but even with access to UC Davis, Yolo County does not fall into this category.

Because children with more educated parents are more likely to be diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, one need look no further for a cause, the authors say. The other clusters are located close to major autism treatment centers.

The clusters are found primarily in the high-population areas of Southern California and, to a lesser extent, in the San Francisco Bay Area. The researchers said that, while children born within the clusters during the study period were more likely to be diagnosed with autism, the majority of the state's children with autism were born in adjacent areas outside the clusters.

For the rigorous study, published online today in the journal Autism Research, scientists examined nearly all of the approximately 2-1/2 million births recorded in California from 1996 through 2000. About 10,000 children born during that five-year period were later diagnosed with an autism, according to the state Department of Developmental Services.

After mapping the state's birth cohort based on where the mothers lived at the time when their children were born, the researchers pinpointed birth locations of children who were later diagnosed with autism.

"This is the first time that anyone has looked at the geography of autism births in California in order to see whether there might be some local patches of elevated environmental risk," said Karla Van Meter, the study's lead author. "This method ignores unknown widespread factors (such as a regional pollutant) that could increase autism incidence."

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