The Condition With No Name: Autism Prevalance in a Farmworker Community

Rebecca Álvarez, Marisol Ornelas


Editors Caveat: The content of this article may be contrary to the general consensus of this journals readership however I would urge readers to refer to the editorial for my reasons for including this study.

Background: In the United States, autism is the intellectual disability with the fastest rate of increase. Among proffered explanations for this is the possibility of environmental exposure to neurotoxins, specifically, agricultural pesticides. While several recent major studies have established a connection between pesticide exposure and increased autism prevalence rates, this research has only examined populations that had slightly higher levels of exposure than the general U.S. population. Our objective was to examine the prevalence of autism in the children of highly exposed women; i.e. farmworkers.

Method: Autism prevalence was measured among a community of P'urhépecha farmworkers living in Thermal, California. Mothers self-identified as farmworkers during pregnancy and 34 children were evaluated for autism by means of the ASSQ.

Results: Severe and previously diagnosed autism was found in 2 of 34 subjects, and one more fell on the autism spectrum as measured by the ASSQ. Most farmworker parents of autistic children were unaware that aid from the state was available to them, despite the significantly higher rates of autism in the community.

Conclusions: Significantly higher rates of autism in the children of mothers who were exposed during pregnancy to pesticides suggest this is a particularly at-risk population. Little access to state resources exists for children of farmworkers when these children are diagnosed with autism. As the rate of autism in this community is more than twice the rate in the general population, those most in need are also the most underserved by public health resources.


Autism; Farmworkers; Purepecha


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