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A qualitative analysis of lay beliefs about the aetiology and prevalence of autism




Child Care Health Dev. 2009 Sep 4. [Epub ahead of print]


A qualitative analysis of lay beliefs about the aetiology and prevalence of autistic spectrum disorders.


Russell G, Kelly S, Golding J. ESRC Centre for Genomics in Society, University of Exeter, Exeter, UK.



Introduction: There has been a dramatic increase in the prevalence of autistic spectrum disorders (ASD) in the last 20 years. The reasons for this are disputed. The consensus among epidemiologists and other experts is that greater case load is due to changes in diagnostic practice rather than reflecting changing aetiological factors leading to a true increase in incidence. We set out to examine lay views concerning the aetiology and prevalence of ASD and whether they conflict with or support this consensus position.


Methods: Over 100 unsolicited communications (letters e mails and several telephone calls) were received by a UK epidemiological study of ASD. We carried out a qualitative analysis of all correspondence in order to examine spontaneously expressed lay beliefs about the prevalence and aetiology of ASD.


Results: The majority of correspondents suggested theories about environmental causes of ASD. This study demonstrates the strength of lay belief that the true incidence of autism is rising, and this is due to risks from modern technologies and changing lifestyles.


Conclusion: This study based on unsolicited data highlights the contrast between lay explanations of increasing prevalence and the consensus opinion of medical experts. It also demonstrates how many people in direct contact with ASD have important information to share.


PMID: 19735265 [PubMed - as supplied by publisher]



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