Understanding Autism Project

The Understanding Autism project was devoted to understanding the factors that have led to the increase in autism prevalence over the last four decades. Since receiving the National Institutes of Health Pioneer Award, wemade significant progress in ascertaining individual and community level factors that are associated with increased risk of autism.  Specifically, among other contributions, we have found evidence that points to new understandings of the expression of risk factors, of the role of de novo mutations in increasing risk, of spatial clustering at birth and diagnosis, which points to social dynamics as underlying risks of diagnosis, and of changes to the diagnostic pathway in relation to intellectual disabilities. We are rapidly expanding our data structures, analyzing new mechanisms associated with increased risk of autism, and understanding in greater detail the developmental trajectories of persons with autism. In addition to quantitative data, the project has collected life histories from individuals who have children with autism.


National Institutes of Health Pioneer Award 

Principal Investigator

Peter Bearman (Sociology, Columbia University) 


Liu, K., Zerubavel, N., & Bearman, P. (2010). Social Demographic Change and Autism. Demography, Volume 47, Issue 2:327-343 [Read More]

Liu, K., King, M., & Bearman, P. (2010). Social Influence and the Autism Epidemic. American Journal of Sociology, Volume 115, Number 5:1387-1434. [Read More]

Mazumdar, S., King, M., Liu, K., Zerubavel, N., & Bearman, P. (2009). The Spatial Structure of Autism in California, 1993-2001. Health and Place, Volume 16: 539-546. [Read More]

King, M. & Bearman, P. (2009). Diagnostic Change and Increased Prevalence of Autism. International Journal of Epidemiology, Volume 38, Issue 5:1224-1234. [Read More]

King, M., Fountain, C., Dakhlallah, D., & Bearman, P. (2009) Estimated Autism Risk and Older Reproductive Age. American Journal of Public Health, Volume 99, Issue 9:1673-1679. [Read More]

Fountain, C., King, M., & Bearman, P. (2011). Age of diagnosis for autism. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, Volume 65: 503-510. [Read More]

Fountain, C. & Bearman, P. (2011). Risk as a social context. Sociological Forum, Volume 26, Issue 2:215-240. [Read More]

Cheslack-Postava,K., Liu,K. & Bearman,P.S. (2011) Closely Spaced Pregnancies are Associated with Increased Odds of Autism in California Sibling Births. Pediatrics, Volume 127: 246-253. [Read More]

King, M., & Bearman, P. (2011). Socioeconomic Status and the Increased Prevalence of Autism in California. American Sociological Review, Volume 76, Issue 2:320-346. [Read More]

Keyes, K., Susser, E., Cheslack-Postava, K., Fountain, C., Liu, K., and Bearman, P.S. (2011) Cohort Effects Explain the Increase in Autism Diagnosis among Children Born from 1992 to 2003 in California. International Journal of Epidemiology. [Read More]

Fountain, C., Winter, A.S., & Bearman, P.S. (2012) Six Developmental Trajectories Characterize Children with Autism. Pediatrics. Volume 129, Number 5: e1112-e1120. [Read More]

Mazumdar, S., Liu, K., Susser, E., & Bearman, P.S. (2012) The Disappearing Seasonality of Autism Conceptions in California. PLoS One, Volume 7, Issue 7:e41265. [Read More]

Liu, K., & Bearman, P. S. (2015). Focal points, endogenous processes, and exogenous shocks in the autism epidemic. Sociological methods & research, 44(2), 272-305.. [Read More]

Mazumdar, S., Winter, A., Liu, K., & Bearman, P. (2013) Spatial clusters of autism births and diagnoses point to contextual drivers of increased prevalence. Social Science and Medicine. [Read More]