Rain May Lead To Autism

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Now I know that headline got your attention and a big “what?”, but I did not come up with it myself. By the time you read this you may have heard it yourself, but it jumped out at me from my news reader this afternoon. Apparently it is a valid conclusion reached by researchers after comparing rainfall data with autism rates. The first thing that came to my mind was “is pollution in the rain the cause?”, but there seem to be many other theories as to the correlation.

One of the more interesting is the television – autism link. It was discovered a while ago that children who watch more TV have a higher rate of autism. I would have thought that maybe autistic children tend to watch more TV, but some researchers thought that TV itself might be contributing to rising autism rates. Now with this new rainfall theory, some are suggesting the following connection. Living in a higher rainfall climate creates less opportunity for outdoor play, which leads to more television watching, which leads to higher autism rates. Boy, I don’t know. Sounds loopy to me, but I am sure no expert on the whole subject. It will be interesting to follow this story over time to see what plays out. For now here are a few links to more in-depth articles on the headline of the day.

BBC News

USA Today

Web MD

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Will Sig
1 JD Thomas

Having worked with someone with two autistic sons I have absorbed a fair amount of info on the underlying effects of autism by listening to her and hearing how her sons have been trained to better communicate.

As a result, when I read this, one thing popped into my mind and it may be spectacularly wrong but here it is.

So many of the challenges that face people across the autistic spectrum relate to their ability to process incoming stimulation. That includes both visual and auditory information about the world around them.

So, a child raised from birth to three years of age, like those in the study you linked to, would have had a major source of auditory input during that time in the form of rainfall on the ground and on roofs.

There is a reason that many of the whitenoise/sleep sound systems contain sounds of rainfall. Its soothing and can help you zone out and fall asleep. As an adult you know what the sound is and can cope with it, but think about what would happen to a very small child if you regularly exposed them to a whitenoise machine or other repetitive but pervasive sound for hours on end.

I just wonder if there is something to the idea that during a time when children are learning to differentiate sounds and speech patterns they can have that process hijacked by the introduction of another powerful sensory source like rainfall.

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2 JD Thomas

Ignore this comment, forgot to click for followup emails.

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3 Rachel

Cornell University’s eClips has just posted a video interview with Michael Waldman in which he discusses the correlation between rain and autism. You can watch video clips from the interview on the eClips blog (http://cornell-eclips.blogspot.com) and visit eClips (http://eclips.cornell.edu) to see over 12,000 video clips.

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4 Will

That sure is a very interesting idea, JD. I like how you always have unique takes on things and how they often make sense.

Thanks for that link, Rachel!

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5 Valerie

Hi! linking rain to autism sounds interesting to me. I didn’t know about this until I read your post. If in case this theory will be proven true, I’m still grateful my kid is not much into TV. By the way, thanks for the links and the great post.

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