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New research shows that autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are more common among children born to mothers who were exposed to pollution during pregnancy. In compiling the data, researchers analyzed parent submitted insurance claims for approximately one third of the US population and found that exposure to traffic fumes, industrial air pollution and other environmental toxins was a common theme of parents with autistic children. In fact, researchers did find other predictors for autism, but by far, the strongest were associated with the environment pollution, which increased ASD incidences by 283%. To compare, non-reproductive congenital malformations resulted in a 31.8% ASD rate increase and viral infections in males resulted in a 19% ASD rate increase.  Study author Andrey Rzhetsky tells Mail Online, “Essentially what happens is during pregnancy there are certain sensitive periods where the fetus is very vulnerable to a range of small molecules – from things like plasticizers, prescription drugs, environmental pesticides and other things. Some of these small molecules essentially alter normal development.” Women with the highest levels of exposure to these various pollutants were found to be around 50% more likely to have a child who develops autism, according to the study. Oddly, defects were more noticeable in male children. While the research is new, study authors note that routinely expanding the scope of scientific inquiry to include environmental, demographic and socioeconomic factors are important when it comes to genetic analyses of ASDs.

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+ Environmental and State-Level Regulatory Factors Affect the Incidence of Autism and Intellectual Disability