Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy (ISERP), Columbia University
Over the past four decades, the prevalence of autism has risen nearly ten-fold in the United States. The Understanding Autism group at Columbia University believes that the "epidemic" spread of this non-contagious disorder is to a large extent a social phenomenon, arising from demographic, geographic, social, political forces. In order to understand the factors accounting for precipitous rise we have constructed the largest existing dataset on this question, containing information on the family characteristics, local environments, conception, and autism and intellectual disability careers of the population of children born in California from 1992-2007. This talk will describe the creation and contents of this unique data structure, and summarize the impact of factors including changing diagnostic criteria, patterns of geographic clustering, the shifting socioeconomic gradient, the rising age of childbearing and use of assisted reproduction, political forces, and social influence.