UPDATE:  Let's toss TV out of the equation entirely, and focus on precipitation vs autism!  Here's more info.

We're friends with a family that has three severely autistic children.  It's an amazingly difficult thing to care for them.  Our family has spent quite a bit of time in their home, and occasionally we help out with babysitting and such in order to give them a much-needed break.  When we spend time with those children we find that they're very special people, and we get the feeling that there's a normal person inside, trapped within a severe physical limitation.  Of the three, the child with the lightest case has interesting insights into life that you wouldn't normally think of.  But the other two are severely impacted, and can only communicate using sign language.

So with that background I just saw the drivel that hit national news this week suggesting that autism is caused by television viewing habits.  This is completely ridiculous, and I expect the authors of this report haven't spent any time in a home with autistic children.  The only way they could have come up with this is by crunching numbers to find a seemingly parallel trend between two totally unrelated studies.

Here's my message to Gregg Easterbrook and the other three participants in the report: I would encourage you to spend just one hour in the home of a severely autistic child, interacting with them and seeing their environment.  If you do then I expect you'll come to the conclusion that if television is even a factor at all, it is extremely minor.  This is not the smoking gun that everyone is looking for.  It makes for a sensational news story, but when you dig further into the facts it's as laughable as the humorous case put forth in the parody website "Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster" stating that global warming is caused by a worldwide decrease in the number of pirates:

Perhaps Gregg's viewpoint is designed to steer public scrutiny away from Thimerosal, which is the common mercury preservative added to vaccines and flu shots.  It was introduced in the late 60's, and is still found in vaccines being administered to children today.  An infant getting all of their shots on schedule will receive about 40 times the level of mercury deemed safe by the FDA!  Here is a great report by Barbara Brewitt that goes into the specifics.

I will say that watching TV is a contributing factor to many other problems in society like violence, apathy, and a general decline in morals, but we can not add autism to that list.  A month ago this had hit Slate as conjecture.  But now for whatever reason in some circles Gregg's theory is being run up the flagpole with an air of corroborated conclusion.

(Here is the official report which was released two days ago by Gregg Easterbrook, Michael Waldman, Sean Nicholson, and Nodir Adilov.  You can learn more about autism from this fun page.  Also this poignant response from the mother of an autistic child is excellent.  And Claudia and Alice from Time have put together a nice piece.  Finally, I'm glad that the guys at Free Market News Network liked the Pirate correlation I proposed above enough to post about it.  Too bad they didn't refer back to this post as their source, but as long as it helps further people's awareness of autism, I'm not miffed.)

UPDATE:  Let's toss TV out of the equation entirely, and focus on precipitation vs autism!  Here's more info.


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