I was coming back from my morning run and I saw an autistic teenager with his parents who held his hand as they crossed the street, their grip on him firm and steady, as if he would dart across the street unconsciously. This scene was in Bangalore, India.
I have been following Autism's growing scare and the surge in the number of toddlers diagnosed with Autism back in the United States where I have my home. There has been much debate about the environmental factors and the modern lifestyle that could be contributing to increase in Autism cases and yet after many years of research, the medical community has not been able to pin point the cause(s) for this genetic disorder.
In countries like United States, the exposure to various contaminants are rather large and it may be hard to find a specific environmental condition(s) that may be leading to Autism. Processed Food and storage and heating techniques are in many ways scary. Exposure to chemicals in everyday life is very high. There is unavoidable contact with chemicals everywhere - carpets in the house, cleaning products that make the bathrooms and the kitchen sink shine and people sick, various building materials that have high degrees of carcinogenic products (I recently read about one woman's allergic reaction to dry wall imported from China).
However in countries like India, urbanization is still in the works. The exposure to modern lifestyle unlike in the western countries has not yet caught on.Unlike in the United States, most homes here in Banaglore are built from brick and cement and carpets non-existent. Microwaves are fewer and most people do not buy frozen food. They mostly buy their daily quotas of vegetables and dairy and refrigeration is limited. Most typical contaminants are the fertilizers and chemicals that may be in the vegetables and dairy, polluted carbon filled air in the big cities. There is also a surge in the middle and upper middle class on eating outside. Several multi national fast food chains like Mcdonalds, KFC, Pizza Hut are now establishing their firm presence and increasing their reach.
Despite the ill-effects of the urbanization in India and other growing developing countries I still feel that the number of variables in the environment are smaller compared to the western world and if proper statistics and research is done in such developing countries, we may get to the cause for this dreaded disorder sooner. All it requires is to do extensive data collection, management and spreading the awareness of such research so parents of more and more afflicted kids will come forward and share their lifestyle choices. I am hopeful that the combination of advances in medical research and data collection eventually will pin point to the problem(s). How soon this may take is anybody's guess.