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Take a new look at autism research
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Editor, Most researchers of autism believe that improper development of the mirror neuron system is the cause. There is no agreement on what causes the disruption of the development. The mirror neuron system is the part of the brain that learns to recognize and repeat facial expressions, body language and vocal tones. It’s how all of our social interaction takes place.
In 1943 Dr. Kanner of Johns Hopkins first described and named autism. He said that the symptoms were unique and heretofore unknown. He called the condition autism based on auto or alone, in your own world.
I have an idea of what may be disrupting the development of the mirror neuron system in people with autism. If I am correct, it would explain many of the things we know about autism.
1. Why are more males than females autistic?
2. Why was it first diagnosed in the early 1940s?
3. Why did the rate increase so dramatically in the mid 1990s?
4. Why is there a correlation between rainfall and autism in the Pacific Northwest?
5. Why is there a seasonal variation in the rate of autism in Alaska?
6. Why is the rate 1 in 110 in the U.S. but 1 in 58 in Great Britain?
7. Why are there 10 clusters, which are affluent neighborhoods in California with well-educated parents, that have above normal rates of autism?
 According to a Norwegian study, 25 percent of children born blind become autistic. Since there have always been blind children there has always been autism, but it was considered part of the problem that caused blindness. I believe when the condition began to show up in significant numbers outside of the blind community, that’s when it was finally diagnosed. I believe autistic children and autistic blind children are born healthy, except for the blindness of course. Since blind children cannot see facial expressions or body language, their mirror neuron system cannot develop properly, in other words the blindness causes the autism.
In an animal study done at Duke University animals were raised in total darkness and others were raised with an “abnormal” light input. The results of this study indicated that the abnormal light input was more damaging than total darkness. So is it possible that autistic children have gotten an abnormal light input during a critical time in the development of their mirror neuron system?
The product that I suspect is the culprit, fluorescent lights, came on the market in 1938, five years before Dr. Kanner’s diagnosis. A new user-friendly version of fluorescent lights started to sell in the mid 1990s and autism rates began to sharply increase at the same time.
Fluorescent lights do not produce continuous light. They turn completely off and on 120 times per second. During the “off” period, the room or area is completely dark. This is not obvious to most adults as our brains are busy processing a multitude of other things, but an infant’s brain is unencumbered. Some infants may have a visual response time rapid enough that the intermittent light causes a disruption in mirror neuron development.
Our evolutionary past as hunter gatherers has caused females (gatherers) to have wide set eyes for better depth perception and peripheral vision to detect predators while many studies have shown males (hunters) to have a faster visual response time. The faster visual response time would make males more susceptible to the intermittent light than females, which would explain why more males are autistic.
The compact fluorescent light bulb came on the market in the mid 1990s and gained popularity due to energy-saving capabilities. The use of CFLs in homes increased infant exposure to fluorescent light, which coincides with the increase in autism.
The counties west of the Cascade Mountains require more hours of artificial lighting due to the cloudy and rainy conditions than those east of the mountains. More exposure to artificial lighting explains the correlation between rainfall and autism.
While the U.S. has an autism rate of 1 in 110, the U.K. has a rate of 1 in 58. The 1 in 58 rate in Great Britain is due to their electric supply. The electric current in Great Britain is 50 cycles per second where ours is 60 cycles per second. The lower frequency, 100 cycles per second, of their fluorescent lighting means that a greater number of infants would fall into the affected range.
The explanation for the clusters is not as straightforward. They are described as affluent neighborhoods with well-educated parents. I reasoned that well-educated parents living in expensive neighborhoods would likely both work and be more likely to use day care. I used the Yellow Pages to get the address of all the day care centers in and around the clusters then used Google Earth to look at each building. Over 90 percent were commercial buildings that typically use only fluorescent lighting. Again the result is more exposure to fluorescent light and more autism.
If a large group of children could be kept away from fluorescent lights until they are 3 years old and none become autistic, I think that would prove the theory.
Technically, this has already been done. There are more than 220,000 Amish and they use no electricity and have virtually no autism. Many of their children are vaccinated and are subjected to other risk factors such as living downwind of power plants.
I am not suggesting that we get rid of fluorescent lighting, but we could mandate that all new lighting have the electronic ballasts that cycle at 20,000 CPS and change the ballasts in hospitals and day care centers to the electronic type.

— Oren Evans
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