The rising prevalence of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has given pause to many epidemiologists and spawned aggressive attempts to search for an explanation. Whatever the underlying genomics of autism are, they cannot explain the increase because they have remained largely unchanged while the incidence has steadily risen. Hence it seems logical to think of environmental perturbations that have occurred concomitant with this rise that might plausibly be linked to it and would lend themselves to modification or remediation. Notably, the rise in ASD incidence began in earnest in 1996.1 What else began in the early 1990s? Infant television viewing. In 1970, the mean age at which children began to watch television was 4 years; by 2006 it was 4 months.2 Ecological associations are always fraught and problematic, but there are compelling theoretical reasons to believe that a potential causal linkage may exist between excessive early exposure to media and developmental outcomes in children, many of which are enumerated by Heffler et al3 in this issue of JAMA Pediatrics as motivating their study.
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Christakis DA. Early Media Exposure and Autism Spectrum Disorder: Heat and Light. JAMA Pediatr. Published online April 20, 2020. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2020.0659
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