Journalist and Writer
Hilary Wilce specialising in all aspects of education
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The Quandary - 27 Mar 2008

I teach more and more children on the autistic spectrum. Why is the incidence of this going up so fast?

Hillary's Advice

Autism is the name given to a wide range of developmental disorders that affect speech, understanding and communication. Symptoms can range from an awkward child who finds it hard to socialise, to a child who is totally locked up inside himself and unable to connect with anyone. It affects mainly boys, and last year new research from Cambridge University suggested it could affect as many as one in 58 children, although most people accept the incidence is more like one in a hundred.

Many primary schools claim they are seeing a rising number of autistic pupils in their classrooms, although this could be at least partly a result improved diagnosis and awareness.

The causes of autism remain unknown. Scientists from London and New York have recently pointed a finger at older fathers, suggesting that babies born to fathers over 40 are six times more likely to develop the condition than those born to younger fathers, probably because of genetic mutations in the sperm of older men.

Other researchers in the United States have suggested that too much early television watching, which impedes social development, could play a part in the rising incidence of autism.

Some people believe that exposure to pesticides and pollutions is a trigger, while the use of the MMR vaccine continues to worry parents despite recent research which yet again failed to demonstrate any link between it and autism.

It is obviously a complex picture in which both genes and environment most likely play a part. Meanwhile growing numbers of parents and teachers, like you, are struggling to help the unfortunate children who have the condition.