No explanation for 'scary' rise in autism

Last updated 00:00 08/11/2007

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Autism, the brain disorder which featured in the 1988 movie Rain Man, is increasing at a frightening rate in New Zealand.

Finding out why the brain development disorder was growing at such an alarming rate was the "million dollar question", Autism New Zealand Auckland manager Felicity Roberts said.

The increase was not explained by the population increase or another suggestion that it was now easier to diagnose.

Today Prime Minister Helen Clark was to open a new house in Auckland for Autism New Zealand and Ms Roberts said, while it would not help research into the mystery cause of autism, it was a "fantastic new project" which would help patients, parents and families deal with the disorder.

In the film Rain Man, Dustin Hoffman played autism sufferer Raymond, brother of selfish yuppie Charlie Babbitt, played by Tom Cruise.

Ms Roberts said no one knew what caused autism.

"They are still guessing. The best they can do is that it has been narrowed down to a genetic factor, a genetic pre-disposition and some sort of environmental insult."

She said the "scary thing" was that it was growing so rapidly but the cause was not known.

Ms Roberts said Autism House in the Auckland suburb of St Lukes, would bring together families, professionals, and service organisations that had a similar goal – "to help herald a brighter future for those individuals with an autism spectrum disorder".

She said autism did not mean sufferers could not become part of the community.

"We are all about trying to help every individual achieve their potential," she said.

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