Parental psychiatric disorders and children with autism

The May 5, 2008 issue of Pediatrics published an article “Parental psychiatric disorders associated with autism spectrum disorders in the offspring,” written by the UNC research team, led by Julie Daniels, PhD, assistant professor in the departments of epidemiology and maternal and child health at UNC’s School of Public Health.

As I understand, the team reviewed birth and hospital records from Sweden and looked at the numbers of psychiatric disorders in parents and the numbers of autism in children. And yes, there seems to be a link between the two.

But what I found interesting is how this news is reported, beginning with headlines to the way the results are described in the news about this study.

Take, for instance the following headlines:

Don they make it sound like the child’s autism is the cause of parent’s mental illness? In other words, if you have an autistic child, there’s a high chance you’ll develop a mental illness as a result, which is not what the study is saying, I believe.

Some headlines’ language is more neutral:

But simply because they put “autism” in the first part of the headline I still think someone could understand these headlines as pointing to autism as the cause of parents’ mental illness.

I found just a couple of headlines that put the “parents’ mental illness” language at the beginning (just like the article to which they are referring):

In other words, the way I would understand these headlines without reading the article underneath, the parents’ mental illness is related to a child’s autism, but without reading more, I wouldn’t know in what way – which one causes the other.

And finally, I found it quite amusing that the Russian Pravda’s headline “Parents with mental disorders more likely to have autistic children” is pretty much the opposite of the Washington Post’s headline.

Pravda‘s headline, by the way, as blunt and to the point as it is, does seem to get the gist of what the researchers are saying, but I’ll have to look at the actual article to confirm.

Speak Your Mind