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August 31, 2015

Study links TV watching to autism

by Adam Finley, posted Oct 17th 2006 4:06PM

toy tvOngoing research at Cornell University has revealed a possible link between autism and children under the age of three who watch television. The study found that when cable became more prominent in households in the '80s, autism rates also increased. The study has not found anything specific in television viewing that may trigger autism in young children, only that there is a strong correlation between the two. Some have pointed out it may not be television, but indoor air pollution that may be the root of the problem.

While experts study this and try to come to a consensus, I think laypersons should see this as a reminder that too much television exposure at a young age is not a good thing. As Slate's Gregg Easterbrook points out in his article, humans evolved responding to three-dimensional stimuli, and repeated exposure to two-dimensional images, whether it turns out to be directly linked to autism or not, is still not a good thing in the early stages of development.

[via Netscape]

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"I do know that no one conducting this study is saying that watching television equals autism."

True, Adam, but they are looking at the correlation between the uptick in households with CABLE television and cases of autism. And, as I said in the first comment, that makes no sense. What is the difference between having TV without cable and having TV with cable?

October 18 2006 at 6:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Adam Finley

The study and the article is careful to point out there's no evidence that watching television triggers autism. It's simply trying to find if there is a correlation between the increase in homes with cable TV and the increase in cases of autism that occured at the same time. I'm not a doctor so I can't say whether the research is worthwhile or not, but I do know that no one conducting this study is saying that watching television equals autism.

October 18 2006 at 12:05 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

There has been a lot of credible research that shows that vaccines for various diseases given to pregnant women (commonly recommended nowadays) and young children (which has increased since I was a kid) has turned out to be a major catastrophe that is being hushed up by the pharma biz because it's such a lucrative business. There have been direct links between not only autism but a host of other diseases through the use of unnecessary vaccines. See http://www.mercola.com/1999/archive/vaccine_autism_link_feared.htm and also http://www.relfe.com/vaccine.html also do a search using keywords "vaccine" and "dangerous" you will be shocked.

October 17 2006 at 9:24 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
christina adams

As someone who has written a book on autism and spoken to thousands of family members of kids with autism, I can tell you that tv-watching is the least likely causative factor recently discussed by scientists. My own son, the subject of my book, could not even focus long enough to watch tv or videos at an early age, before he was diagnosed. It is true that television or video-watching may help restructure the brain into producing anti-social behavior, but we already know that. Kids with autism are already socially impaired and visually gifted, so they are even more negatively affected by inappropriate tv watching. And it may make their symptoms worse, increasing their already impaired atention issues, verbal echoing of language, and social isolation. But did it cause the autism? No way. Pollution, genetics, certain ill-timed immunizations in some kids, environmental chemicals, stress, hormones, parental health and prenatal factors...these are much more relevant. A million other "red flags" are far more likely to have caused the spike on autism than simple tv-watching, as any experienced parent knows. The last thing we need is more blame for how we parents caused our child's autism. There are many forces at work that may have helped to cause it, some of which could be controlled if our government had the political willpower, some of which cannot.

Christina Adams
Author, A Real Boy: A True Story of Autism, Early Intervention and Recovery (Penguin/Berkley Books)

October 17 2006 at 5:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Nancy Eckert

What a waste of good money that could be used for more sensible research. Cornell should be embarrased. I feel the direction should be to investigate the genetic component and possible environmental triggers to that gene. Watching TV? The autism rate would be one in two, at the least. What in the TV do they feel causes structural brain changes that are seen in autism?

October 17 2006 at 5:06 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This sounds like what is known as a "post hoc ergo propter hoc" fallacy--literally, "after this, therefore because of this." It's like, if I took a walk in the rain and afterwards got hit by a car, saying that I got hit by the car because I'd been out in the rain (I have no idea why that example popped into my head, by the way). There would likely be dozens of other variables in play.

There are so many other possible factors, and this doesn't seem like a proveable one. I mean, when studies track global obesity rates that track with the spread of MacDonald's around the world, there's at least a sensible correlation: MacDonald's sells a lot of food when they open, and then people get fat. But how does cable specifically have anything to do with autism? Do the researchers believe that these households didn't have TVs before that? People still had television before the 1980s, and they still watched it--as someone born in the 50s, I can attest to that willingly. Cable merely brought more channels.

So is the correlation actually that cable variety is causing autism? The logic seems just as shaky.

October 17 2006 at 4:54 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I'm sorry, but I don't buy it. I whole heartedly agree that the TV shouldn't be used to babysit small children, but I don't believe it causes Autism. I think that the ability to more easily diagnose Autism really began to develop at the same time as cable tv, video games and PC usage. Hence the number of children diagnosed since 1980 has risen.

I say this as the mother of a child with MR/DD issues. 30 years ago he would have gone undiagnosed with the true problem and just been tagged "simple." I would more easily believe it is the chemicals and hormones in the food than tv exposure, but then I am a TV junkie, so maybe I am biased.

October 17 2006 at 4:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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