Subjecting infants to electronic devices is another theory on what causes autism.
This one comes from Dr. Leonard Oestreicher, a longtime Merced family practitioner, and is explained in his new eBook: "The Pied Pipers of Autism."
His theory, while laying some blame on genetic factors, maintains that the leading cause of autism and related disorders is the electronics -- televisions, video devices and talking toys -- many infants are exposed to today.
And as a result of his research, other studies about autism and the years he spent as a family practice physician, Oestreicher is convinced autism can be prevented.
In March, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that more children than ever are being diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders. One out of 88 children has been diagnosed with such a disorder, according to the CDC.
Researchers have suggested that the causes of autism include vaccines, mercury in the food chain, problems within the brain and many others.
But Oestreicher thinks the experiences infants have with electronic devices in their first year of life lead to one-way communication. Babies are then not able to develop social communication skills, leading to autism and related disorders, he said.
"During their first year of life, babies should be able to see the lips from the voices they hear, and that's been a recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics for the last 20 years," he said.
An infant's first year of life is critical for them to develop social communication skills, he said.
If they don't acquire those skills during that critical time period, children could end up developing an autism spectrum disorder, he added. "They will develop difficulties with social skills and become autistic," he said. "They never learn how to socially communicate."
Sometimes parents might not notice problems until two or three years later, when the child can't talk, he said.
Before, infants were raised with a two-way interaction, Oestreicher said. "That's how they made their social communication skills," he said.
Joint attention is important for a normal development of an infant's social communication. That's when a baby looks at a toy or object and then looks at his mother, who is paying attention, to see her reaction.
"It's the first real communication between a baby, the world and another person," he said.
There's been other research done on this topic, he said. For example, there's one study that found that when cable TV was first introduced, the number of autism cases increased.
A more recent one, conducted by a woman in Thailand, found that autistic children had started watching TV about six months earlier than non-autistic children, Oestreicher said.
He's using his eBook to spread awareness about the link between autism and electronic devices. The first 5,000 copies will be available for free download.
"My hope is that parents around the world will stop exposing their kids to these devices during infancy," he said. "And that kids will no longer become autistic."
Oestreicher was inspired to write the book by his nephew who developed a form of autism.
Reporter Yesenia Amaro can be reached at (209) 385-2482 or email@example.com.