The U.K. Medical Research Council feels that a massive and coordinated research effort to identify the causes of autism is urgently needed and believes that autism and related disorders are far more common than previously thought. So far, there is no firm evidence linking any environmental elements with the disease.

Autism and related disorders affect six in every 1,000 English children under the age of eight, the research team found. The previous figure was between one and two per 1,000. The increase is due to changed ideas about what constitutes autism, as well as increased awareness of the condition.

Previous research has revealed no evidence of a link between the Measles/Mumps/Ruebella vaccine and autism. The group also found no firm evidence linking immune system problems with the disorder. It?s increasingly clear that there is a genetic component to autism. But long-term studies are needed to separate the genetic and environmental components of the disorder.

Judith Barnard of the U.K.?s National Autistic Society, says, ?Most importantly for me, the report formally recognizes that autism can no longer be considered to be a rare condition.?

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