A new study finds that where pregnant mothers choose to live, may play a big role in the risk of delivering a child with autism.
It's the first large-scale study looking at a potential link between autism and areas of high pollution.
Jean Atalla has an autistic son, Andy who is now 34-years-old. Back when she was pregnant...
"I worked in the Port of Elizabeth which is one of the highly polluted areas of New Jersey. So this recent study is very interesting to me," said Atalla.
New research out of the Harvard School of Public Health found that pregnant women exposed to high levels of air pollution were twice as likely to have an autistic child than expectant mothers living in areas with lower pollution.
"It makes a lot of sense to me that that could be a causative factor," Atalla said.
The number of autism cases is growing every year. Below is a chart taken from the Centers for Disease Control illustrating the growth in autism spectrum diagnoses.
While the official number stands at 1-in-88 children in the United States having autism, more recently, the CDC polled parents and found 1-in-50 kids were reported to have the disorder.
Oregon ranks high on the number of autistic kids. The reason is not clear.
Though some doctors said the rising numbers are partially due to more people (including those diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome) falling under the Autism Spectrum Disorder umbrella.
Dr. Alan Frierson, a Behavioral Pediatrician in Medford said autism is primarily caused by a genetic predisposition with other factors also playing a role.
"We've always known anything that damages the embryo inside the mom can cause autism and there's a lot of causes for that and pollution certainly could be one of them," said Dr. Frierson.
"It makes sense. It's not the sole cause of autism but it certainly increases the risk," he continued.
In light of the recent findings, Jean Atalla has a piece of advice for soon-to-be moms.
"If I were a young woman today contemplating having children, I'd pay very big attention."
Heeding her story and what researchers are calling a link between pollution and autism.
Experts say there are other precautions you can take to decrease the risk of autism, such as taking pre-natal vitamins and eating food high in healthy oils.