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Originally published Monday, April 9, 2012 at 12:09 PM

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Behind autism: Genes? Pollutants? Mom's weight?

Some questions and answers about autism.

The Associated Press

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Some questions and answers about autism.

Q: What causes autism?

A: That's what researches are trying to figure out with a host of studies. The causes are believed to be complicated, and not necessarily the same for each child.

Q: How much of autism can be linked to genetic causes?

A: Some experts say that in many cases autism results from both genetic flaws that load the gun and other factors that pull the trigger. So far, they have determined genetic problems account for about 20 percent of cases. That percentage could grow as they continue to find new genetic mechanisms.

Q: What other factors could be involved?

A: Some studies have suggested that obesity during pregnancy raises the risk for autism. Others found a link between autism and older fathers at the time of conception. Also being studied are other factors during pregnancy, including medications, as well as environmental pollutants.

Q: How many children have autism?

A: The latest government estimate is 1 in 88 U.S. children have an autism disorder. Those can range from mild cases in which some kids lose that diagnosis as they mature to severe cases in which children are uncommunicative and severely intellectually disabled.

Q: Why are we hearing so much about autism lately?

A: Several research studies have been published over the past week, and April is National Autism Awareness Month. The new research findings also followed closely the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report on new U.S. autism estimates.

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