Autism, Television and A Christian’s Responsibility

Mohler (HT: Tim–>Links Below) tells parents to be careful with television and children by first showing an excerpt from recent research showing a statistical relationship with autism and television viewing. People, don’t get me wrong—kids shouldn’t be spending hours in front of the TV, but honestly—Christians, just because you read a bit of research don’t immediately wave it as your banner!

Still Early People

Papers like this are the early stage of a hypothesis; a compiling of the empirical data to see if there is a legitimate connection. That alone should have believers not start waving it as a banner or scare tactic against television viewing.

Not That Simple

Autism was first labeled a clinical concern in 1943 and not until the 1970s was there some sort of reporting of numbers of cases. There was no solid reporting system of autism cases until 1992 (federal legislation passed on 1991) and of course there was a learning curve so we can go to about 2000 when the reporting started coming in steadily. Autism is going up—but no one knows why.

Autism is complex. Basically it’s a spectrum of developmental disorders that affect three areas: language, social interaction and obsessive behavior or interests. It happens across ethnic and cultural backgrounds but tends to occur more in boys than girls. In the mid seventies it was recognized to have some sort of genetic connection and recently the thinking has been that it’s several genetic factors in combination with an environmental trigger.

Let’s say your body is a house. The gasoline leaking on the floor is one genetic disorder but by itself it doesn’t do anything. The windows closed in the basement is another genetic disorder as is the frayed wire running through the house—but by themselves they do nothing. Even together, nothing might happen. One day someone opens the door and flips a switch—that triggers a power surge, that sparks the gasoline and burns down the house; that’s an environmental factor triggering the genetic factors causing autism.

Television watching is also complex. Sometimes its escapism and other times its background noise. Some people use it to teach school and others use it to make money—but in each case there’s different motivations, positives and negatives. The same can apply to computers, books, music, sports, and eating.

Vilifying some box (TVs or Computers or vaccinations or whatever else people can think up) might be easy but it doesn’t seriously address problems. It’s like three steps away from “Keep doing that sort of thing and you’ll go blind.” Use your mind, believers.

TV or Being Indoors?

To see if Television is an On-Switch for Autism, Cornell had to first show that television viewing goes up when it rains, savvy? Okay: If it Rains then Kids are indoors. If Kids are Indoors they are watching Television. If we look at states that have more rainfall then they have more Kids Indoors who are watching Television. Therefore these states should have a measurable amount of Autistic children.

But, indoor air is notorious for holding dangerous fumes or toxic gasses. The paint on your wall leaks toxic fumes for months after its dried and you can’t smell it. Radon, a radioactive gas that seeps up from the ground and causes lung cancer, gets trapped in houses if it isn’t properly mitigated. States, like Pennsylvania (one of the three that were part of the study), have high radon pockets because of the soft limestone bedding. Indeed every state has Radon levels and the government recommends that every house does a Radon Detection.

Cable TV Usage Increases Autism?

The second data was gleaned from two of the states (from 1972 to 1989 who had their own data collection versus National data collection) to see if there is a connection between cable subscriptions and autism. They noticed an increase—while ignoring other possibly correlated increases. Like more microwave ovens, more carcinogen producing cars, more food with hydrogenated soybean oil, more televisions, more wealth, more houses, more fast food restaurants, more hormones in animals—heck more research on Autism.

TV Watching Makes the Autistic or Vice Versa?

The research shows a diagnostic relationship—not a causal relationship. In other words, what the research shows is that there is a connection not if watching the tube triggers autism. They really don’t know if it’s just that the autistic person has a predilection towards watching television. Same thing with ADHD. (update) Jeremy underscores this point here.
The Amish as a Control Group?

Amish don’t use electricity therefore they have no television thus they’re the automatic control. They were also the control on the other test for checking if early childhood vaccinations had a statistical relationship with Autism. Thing is Amish life very different from many people in 21st century US. Like the whole Amish family spends lots of time outdoors. Like they don’t have a bunch of electrical wiring in their houses. Like the fact that they’re a limited genetic pool which might not have all of those variables that make a potential autistic person. Like how they grow lots of their own foods. Honestly, you can probably write a paper showing how Education and Autism is related and using the Amish doesn’t make it right at all.

Is A Genetic Disorder A Severe Attention Disorder?

On page 13 of the paper the researchers show the results of a recent study on the relationship between ADHD and Television. They pointed out that if those results showed a connection then it’s possible that TV “may serve as a trigger for the more severe attention disorder called autism.

ADHD is diagnosed around seven—around the first grade in a society saturated in junk food, entertainment and wrestling with a way to discipline without incurring the wrath of the government and considerably recent “condition”. Autism on the other hand has a history of genetic research. Although attention disorder may be a symptom of Autism I’m not too sure it’s easily categorized a severe attention disorder. Honestly, back in the day Autistic people were just diagnosed as Retarded. Back in the day ADHD kids weren’t diagnosed: they were spanked.

Conclusion

Look, if Television proves detrimental, fine—my point here isn’t to defend Television. My point is that Christians need to think; look at the Big Picture before espousing some new thing as a proof text. A couple of years back there was a similar paper regarding vaccination and now we might have a resurgence of whooping cough because people refuse to vaccinate their kids. Christians use your head—not scare tactics.

Tim’s Link, Mohler’s Article, Autism in 15-Month Year Olds, the Research Paper, CDC on Autism, CDC Research on Autism and Vaccinations, NIMH on ADHD, History of Autism, Genetics of Autism, News Article on a Lawsuit versus the Doctor who did the MMR-Autism Research, Autism and MMR Vaccine, Whooping Cough Vaccine, News on Vaccinations Exemptions, Same News Story Elsewhere, ADHD and Television Research Paper, American Academy of Pediatrics Against Television in Children under Three, Autism and Brain Functions, Slate on the Paper, News on the Danger of Not Vaccinating, Radon,Autism Checklist 1, Autism Checklist 2. A Blog post on the Hidden Price of ADHD

Cross posted on my personal site.

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