As Indians, our closest reference to someone with autism might be limited to SRK who takes on a challenge and embarks on a journey to speak with the President of the United States in the film My Name is Khan. Or the fact that this non-curable disease has a star endorser Salman Khan. However, previous studies suggest that 1 in 166 children are born with this horrific disease.
Recently, a breakthrough study conducted by the University of Southern California indicates exposure to traffic-related air pollution, particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide during pregnancy in the first year of a child’s life appears to be associated with an increased risk of autism.
Autism is a diverse disorder with genetic and environmental factors likely contributing to its origins. Autism spectrum disorders are commonly characterized by problems in communication, social interaction and repetitive behaviors.
The researchers examined the relationship between traffic-related air pollution, air quality and autism in the study that included data obtained from 279 children with autism and control group of 245 children with typical development. For further study, they used the mothers’ addresses to estimate exposure for each pregnancy trimester and for a child’s first year of life. Traffic-related air pollution was estimated based on model and regional air pollutant measures.
The result concluded that children living in homes with the highest levels of modeled traffic-related air pollution were three times as likely to have autism compared with children living in homes with the lowest exposure.
Many questions are still unanswered about this elusive disease and additional research to replicate these findings is needed but the public health implications of these findings are large because air pollution exposure is common and may have lasting neurological effects.