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Autism Spectrum Disorders Health Center

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TV Implicated in Autism Rise

Business Professors' Study Links Too Much Toddler TV Time to Autism

Rain, Cable TV, and Autism continued...

"We ran the tests a number of different ways, and basically every way we run it, we get the same thing. If it rains more, autism goes up. If it rains less, autism goes down," Waldman says. "That is a fine theory by itself, but still one can't be sure it is TV and not some other indoor toxin that is to blame."

So the researchers did a second test: They looked at the percentage of houses that subscribed to cable television in California and Pennsylvania. Cable television, Waldman reasoned, was linked not only to more TV watching, but also to the availability of more programming for very young children.

Sure enough, they found that areas with the most cable TV subscribers had the most autistic children.

"Our view is there is no obvious thing correlated with both rain and cable TV access except television viewing," Waldman says.

Until more direct studies confirm or disprove this conclusion, Waldman and colleagues recommend that parents follow the American Academy of Pediatrician's recommendation of no TV before age 2, and no more than an hour or two of TV a day for older children.

Expert: TV-Autism Link Plausible

Child development expert Leslie Rubin, MD, finds Waldman's study interesting. But he does not think it proves a link between autism and television viewing. Rubin is director of developmental pediatrics at Emory University and director of the center for developmental medicine at the Marcus Institute, Atlanta.

"They are looking at trends in the diagnosis of autism more than the actual prevalence of autism itself," Rubin tells WebMD. "They correlate these diagnostic trends with rain and county, and at another level with the proliferation of cable TV and stuff like VCRs and DVDs and computer games. They all happened at the same time, but I can't see that one is the cause of the other."

This doesn't mean that Rubin rejects Waldman's idea that TV can trigger autism.

"TV viewing might be associated with autism if a child has that tendency and is not forced or coaxed or encouraged to engage in social interactions but instead is allowed to sit in front of a television," he says. "The whole goal of autism treatment is to encourage social interactions. We know that makes the single biggest difference in children's outcomes -- how they relate to others. So if they watch TV instead of interacting, they are going to get more withdrawn."

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