EARLI is a Prospective Study
A prospective study means that information is collected in real time, as it happens, rather than asking about events from the past. In the case of the EARLI Study, participants are enrolled in the study, and data is collected as they progress through pregnancy, and as the child grows up to age three. This eliminates the recall bias – created by the difficulty we all can have when asked to remember things after they have already happened. A prospective approach allows researchers to collect more reliable data leading to more accurate conclusions.
Early Pregnancy Exposures Might Provide a Link
There is scientific evidence indicating that changes in the brain associated with the development of autism occur while the baby is still in the womb. Some studies suggest that these changes may occur before the pregnancy reaches 28-30 weeks. The developing brain is far more susceptible to effects of chemicals than the mature brain. As of yet, we have no solid evidence connecting any common chemical exposures to increased risk of Autism Spectrum Disorders. But, given the limited research undertaken to date, and the complex nature of Autism Spectrum Disorders, we believe the EARLI Study can add significantly to the existing evidence.
Gene-Environment Interaction Will Be Examined
The genetic model or models for the inheritance of Autism Spectrum Disorders are unknown – but are believed to be very complicated. There are important leads about specific risk genes and novel genetic mechanisms that are being actively pursued right now. However, major autism genes have yet to be identified. If autism genes are acting by increasing vulnerability to other exposures, many of the past studies would have difficulty detecting this interplay of genes and environment. While this line of research is always very challenging, EARLI has some advantages for investigating these kinds of questions.