An epidemic of autism cases has swept through California in the last 15 years. The number of people with autism being served by the California Department of Developmental Services increased by 273% from 1987 to 1998, and is still growing by about nine cases per day. That increase cannot be explained away by better data, improved diagnosis, or immigration.

The state is so concerned that a major new study on the possible causes of autism has been sent to the state Legislature. “Autism is on the rise in the state and we still do not know why,” says Dr. Robert S. Byrd. “The results of this study are, without a doubt, sobering. They increase the urgency of trying to find an answer about what causes autism.” Children seem to be born with the condition, which makes it hard for them to socialize or comprehend the feelings of other people. Experts believe the epidemic is affecting the rest of the country, and most industrialized nations, just as much, but California is where it?s being noticed first because it?s the only state that has good data on the condition.

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