Could Autism Be More Prevalent in High-Tech Communities?

This study attempted to test the estimated number of schoolchildren suffering from autism spectrum disorders in three regions of the Netherlands. Autism spectrum conditions are a range of developmental disorders that affect the child’s ability to communicate with others. The results showed that in Eindhoven, there were 229 autistic children for every 10,000 children. Haarlem and Utrecht had 84 and 57 autistic children per 10,000 children, respectively. The authors noted that Eindhoven had a much higher prevalence of the condition and have planned the next step of the study to explore the reasons behind this difference.

Autism spectrum disorders are developmental disorders seen in children around the world. Children with this condition have difficulties in social interactions and have narrowed interests and activities. A survey in 1979 showed that the prevalence of this condition was four per 10,000 children. Another survey in 1999 showed the prevalence of autism spectrum conditions to be between 30 and 60 per 10,000 children. Studies have shown that parents and siblings of autistic children are occupied in technical professions or work with mathematics. The authors of this study speculated that areas like Eindhoven with the Eindhoven University of Technology where more parents work in technical and information technology professions might be giving birth to children who are more autistic. It is found that 30 percent of jobs in Eindhoven, 16 percent of jobs in Haarlem, and 17 percent of jobs in Utrecht are technology-related jobs. The study attempted to compare the prevalence of autism in these three populations.

* For this study, 659 schools were sent invitations to send in the number of children they have enrolled who were diagnosed with autism and related disorders.
* The results included children aged 4 to 16 years. Both special and mainstream schools and institutions were included in the study.
* Once the schools sent in their findings, statistical tests were applied to test for the total prevalence of the condition among the population of children.

Key findings
* Of the total 659 schools, only 369 schools responded even after reminder mails.
* The study involved the assessment of 62,505 school-aged children. The results showed 75.5 percent response in Eindhoven schools and 49.8 percent and 45.7 percent from Haarlem and Utrecht schools, respectively. Special schools showed a better response rate than mainstream schools.
* The results revealed that there were 229, 84, and 57 autistic children per 10,000 children in Eindhoven, Haarlem, and Utrecht, respectively.

Next steps/Shortcomings
The authors suggest that this high prevalence of autism and related disorders in Eindhoven could be due to more number of parents who are aware of the condition than those compared to the other two regions. Similarly, there could be a lack of awareness and underdiagnosis of the condition in Haarlem and Utrecht. The authors suggest further studies that explore the exact reasons for this difference in Eindhoven.

This is the first study that examines the prevalence of autism and related disorders in three regions of the Netherlands – Eindhoven, Haarlem, and Utrecht. Of these three regions, Eindhoven had a 30 percent population engaged in information technology jobs. The results showed a strikingly higher prevalence of autism in Eindhoven compared to Haarlem and Utrecht. It is speculated that these technology jobs allow for more systematized activity among parents that can lead to an increase in the risk factor of having a child with autism and related disorders by two to four times higher than other factors. The authors suggest further studies to explore the exact link between information technology jobs and autism in children.

For More Information:
Are Autism Spectrum Conditions More Prevalent in an Information-Technology Region? A School-based Study of Three Regions in the Netherlands
Publication Journal: Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, June 2011
By Martine T. Roelfsema; Rosa A. Hoekstra; University of Cambridge, England; The Open University, Milton, Keynes, England

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *