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The Autism Enigma

ABC 4 Corners - "The Autism Enigma"

Screened August 27, 2012

Autism spectrum disorders are the fastest rising developmental disorders in the Western world. Is genetics or the environment the cause?

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is the fastest growing developmental condition in the western world. There is no typical case and there is no accepted cure for it. Fifty years ago it was considered rare, affecting one in 10,000 children. Now the number of children being diagnosed with ASD in the United States is one in 90. The incidence is also rising dramatically in Australia.

To add to this troubling picture, in North America and other parts of the world, there's evidence that ASD rates are much higher in some immigrant populations. So much so that ASD has become known as "the Western disease".

But what is causing this dramatic rise, and why do some communities have higher rates of ASD? Some experts suggest it's because doctors are better able to diagnose the condition, and the criteria for autism diagnosis has been expanded. Others are asking if there's a possible environmental cause. Could the food we eat and commonly used drugs, intended to kill infection, play a part in the development of certain forms of autism?

Four Corners presents "The Autism Enigma". Filmed in the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada the program looks at a controversial theory examining the possible links between harmful bacteria in a child's gut and ASD.

"The Autism Enigma" follows the work of an international group of scientists researching the human intestine and the clues their work might hold for treating and perhaps preventing this baffling disorder.

The film features the stories of two mothers with autistic sons. One, a Somali immigrant called Adar, has been working with scientists who are exploring why autism is more prevalent in her immigrant community. The other is Ellen Bolte, from Chicago, who began her own investigation to see if she could help her son who'd been diagnosed with autism. Using home videos she shares the story of her search for answers and the treatment she believes has given her son an opportunity to learn language, play and become more socially interactive.

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