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HEALTH REPORT - Study Finds Autism Increase in California

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This is the VOA Special English Health Report.

Autism is a mysterious and complex brain disorder that begins to affect a child during the first three years of life.

Children sometimes develop normally for a year or more. Then they become unable to develop normal relationships with other people. They do not act normally in everyday life. They stop speaking. They repeat meaningless actions.

Some autistic children express violent anger or injure themselves. New drugs appear to help control aggressive actions in severely autistic children. However, autism cannot be cured.

No one knows what causes autism. Some scientists suspect that genetic influences or injuries during birth may be linked to the disorder.

A new study by American scientists in California has failed to explain a major increase in autism in the state. California lawmakers ordered the study after learning of an increase of almost three-hundred percent in severe cases of autism. The California Department of Developmental Services said this increase took place between nineteen-eighty-seven and nineteen-ninety-eight. The department also said the number of autistic children continued to increase after that period.

Robert Byrd of the University of California at Davis led the study. His team gathered information about almost seven-hundred children in the state. One group of children was from seven to nine years of age. The other children were seventeen to nineteen years old. More than half of the children suffered from severe autism. The others were mentally retarded. They had very low levels of intelligence. The researchers said the information about the children did not explain the increase in autism cases.

Before the study, some experts blamed the increase in cases on better recognition of the disorder. Others said the number of cases was incorrectly reported. Doctor Byrd said a general increase in the state's population caused about ten percent of the increase in cases.

Doctors say that autistic children should receive intensive training while they are young. The experts suggest repeated training in performing small jobs. They say such training can help an autistic child develop more normally and lead a better quality of life.

This VOA Special English Health Report was written by Jerilyn Watson.

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