First and foremost this is a perfect example of what happens when economists that know nothing of a medical condition try to find some statistical relationship between their beloved data and a condition.
The fact that this study went beyond a water-cooler joke and actually consumed the time, energy, and money required of such a study is beyond irresponsible, it is a slap in the face to the families devastated by this disease and the children who will suffer from it for their lifetime. The fact it was given any relevance and actually reported by someone in the media, as well as being officially announced by the University is reprehensible.
Anyone that seriously looks at the current Autism epidemic must be mindful and cautious of how they approach such a study. After all, this is the disorder once associated with cold and unloving "refrigerator Mothers". Beyond the accusation, many of these families had their children ripped from their arms and the mothers were forced into psychiatric treatment, including electro-shock therapy. The accusations, speculations, and stabs at families have not stopped, even after Dr. Bernard Rimland's clarification that this is a biological illness. Many still believe it results from 'bad parenting'.
We have recently seen other speculative research pointing at 'old dads' and now the most obnoxious and almost light-hearted approach to a serious life-altering ailment, watching television as a cause of autism. This study supports the idiots out there telling us if we would just play with our children and be a parent our kids wouldn't have this problem. So, now those of us with Autistic children it is to be believed, simply stuck our "infants" in front of a TV, again being cold, uncaring, bad parents. It wasn't said, but the insinuations are there all the same.
The first question to those conducting this study must be, "what was their knowledge of Autism before they embarked on this reckless research"?
1) It is apparent from reading the study that they had no knowledge that approximately 25% of those diagnosed with Autism, even in this epidemic, show signs of a serious developmental problem, before they are even one year old. Do they believe that children under this age are actually watching TV or is the supposition that it is the rays or an electronic field being emitted from the Televisions that are causing the Autism. It wasn't clear from their paper.
2) Even those now being recognized as suffering from "regressive Autism", meaning they showed perfectly normal development and then somehow regressed into an Autistic state, normally suffer from regression between the age of 12 and 24 months. Again, really below the age of television watching or at least watching TV in such an unusually massive quantity and differing from previous generations to cause this affect and hence this unexplainable explosion in autism cases since the 1980s. Perhaps the authors had read somewhere that diagnosis' are usually made between the ages of three and five. What they apparently did not know is that it often takes parents years to get a diagnosis as their concerns are down-played or they are urged to 'wait and see', wasting precious intervention time.
3) Did the authors believe that our little 12 month old babies would have been outside on the swing set had it not been for that confounded rain and the tempting new cable TV services being offered in America ?
4) The authors seemed unaware that the epidemic is also surging in other First World nations and now even in India , China , and other nations where TV is not even available to many now suffering their own Autism epidemics.
5) Had they somewhere heard that there is a connection between TV watching and Autism? Because by the age of three or four, long after the onset of autistic symptoms, our Autistic children do become obsessed with the television, but not cable TV or Satellite TV programs. Most of our children never watch regular TV, even at the age typical children do start watching TV. Our children find a particular video or theme of videos and watch them endlessly over and over and over again. Some even into adulthood. At 42 years old, they may still demand that Elmo video they have seen literally thousands if not millions of times. That is the connection between TV watching and Autism. But the cause and affect is actually backwards from what this study suggested. Autism causes obsessive video watching.
6) The most telling omission was the lack of understanding of Autism by the authors by not knowing that almost every single individual diagnosed with Autism also suffers from other serious medical problems. Many children with Autism have serious immune system disorders and a huge number of them have severe gastrointestinal disease that causes debilitating pain and disfunction. There are serious medical complications associated with Autism. The authors of this study made no effort to explain how TV watching could trigger chronic intestinal inflammation, toxic levels of heavy metals, inability to sleep, hard and bloated abdomens, food allergies or intolerances, and much more.
The report itself admits that it was a strange statistic that appeared to show that autism rates were higher where rainfall was higher that triggered the look at television as a possible culprit as an environmental trigger. It is beyond anyone with two neurons left to rub together how far a stretch it took to make that leap from rainfall, to the availability of cable, to television viewing, to Autism (a lifelong debilitating disorder affecting the brain, nervous system, immune system, and gut).
An understanding of the often toxic loads of heavy metals in Autistic children might have lead a researcher to look at the fact that areas with heavier rainfall would be exposing children to more toxins stripped from the air and what is settled on vegetation by the rain itself. Even questioning the high likelihood of mold formation would have been more believable as an environmental trigger than watching television in children really too young to even watch TV.
The study mentions Oregon though only in the early part of the study. A little research may have brought out that Oregon 's Autism rate is the highest in the nation. Four times the national average, the latest statistics in 2006 showed that at a minimum one in every 98 children in Oregon have a diagnosis on the Autism Spectrum. Oregon receives more than its share of rainfall as most people know, but it also has more than its share of abandoned mercury mines as well as other heavy metal mines closed or still operating today. Oregon is one of the worst three states in the U.S. for industrial mercury emissions and it is also a pacific coast state, receiving more than its fair share of mercury and other metals emissions from China 's huge industrial revolution.
Between the rain and natural forest fires, Oregonians are barraged with the constantly recycling heavy metals in our environment. Most lakes and rivers are now marked with the ever-present signs stating, "Do not eat the Fish". This certainly deserves more research and makes far more sense than Tom and Jerry or the Roadrunner as possible environmental causes of Autism in infants and toddlers.