Social Influence May Impact Autism Cluster

NEW YORK, April 14 (UPI) — U.S. researchers suggest social influence — knowing autistic children — may be a factor in the creation of clusters of autism diagnoses.

However, the researchers at Columbia University in New York said their study does not imply autism is not real or is over-diagnosed.

Researchers said data on children in California indicates a child living within about 850 feet of a child with autism has a 42 percent higher chance of being diagnosed with autism within the next year. Meanwhile, chances of being diagnosed with autism decreased significantly with distance. Living beyond 1,640 feet lowers the likelihood of being diagnosed by 16 percent, the study said.

The researchers explain several tests indicate it is the transmission of information about autism from parent-to-parent that is the key factor.

“We are describing the mechanism by which the number of diagnoses is increasing,” study co-author Peter Bearman said in a statement. “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.”

Bearman and colleagues looked at data of more than 300,000 children born from 1997 to 2003 in California — a state where the number of autism cases increased 636 percent from 1987 to 2003.

The findings are published in the American Journal of Sociology.

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