Good Charity Inc. & the Autistic Society Fund | Autism: What you need to know
April 25th, 2013 by Brian Maiorana
Good Charity Inc. and the Autistic Society Fund Presents:
Autism: What you need to know
- Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and autism are general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development. These disorders are characterized by difficulties in social interaction, poor verbal and nonverbal communication skills, and repetitive behaviors. Other frequent symptoms include intellectual disability, difficulties in motor coordination and attention, and physical health issues such as sleep and gastrointestinal disturbances.
- The portion of children in the United States diagnosed on the autism spectrum scale has grown 10 times in the last forty years. It doubled in the period 2000-2008 alone.
- 1 in 88 children are now diagnosed on the autism spectrum. Boys are diagnosed at a rate of 1 in 54, girls 1 in 252.
- Autism causes billions of dollars in treatment and other costs every year. The emotional toll on families is immeasurable.
- With the rise in the rate of autism diagnosis, a tremendous increase in autism research has occurred. Media attention and political action on issues surrounding autism have grown exponentially.
Researchers have identified various possible causes for increased ASD rates, but none are definitive and no “cure” or vaccination appears to be on the immediate horizon.
Some Possible Causes of Autism:
- Increased age of parents (especially fathers)
- Pre-natal or very early childhood exposure to pesticides and other environmental toxins such as various chemicals used in manufactured goods like plastic.
- Low birth weight/fetal distress/multiple births by mother
Evidence also indicates that autism rates have increased so sharply due to improved testing and other non-medical reasons.
As diagnosis rates for autism have increased, the diagnosis rate of mental retardation and other developmental disorders has decreased. Autism’s high media profile may cause both parents and doctors to choose autism as an explanation for a child’s delayed development or other problems. A common reaction to developmental abnormalities in children is for a parent to seek an explanation, a cause for their child’s abnormality and autism’s large presence in the socio-media landscape makes it an attractive explanation.
Income, Health Care, and Autism
- Studies have shown strong correlation with income and autism diagnosis. In the past, higher income families were much more likely to have a child diagnosed with autism; this phenomenon has somewhat reversed in recent years. Access to medical care and increased parental resources associated with higher income levels almost certainly account for the increased diagnosis rate for higher income parents. Currently many children diagnosed at the mild end of the autism scale are from higher income families and the growth in overall autism rates has been driven primarily by growth in the low to moderate end of the autism spectrum.
- Autism rates vary greatly by state, and are correlated with income levels and the efficacy of state level autism screening programs. For example Utah, which has widespread screening programs, had the highest rate—1 child in 47. The state was closely followed by New Jersey, which prides itself on its autism services, at 1 in 49. At the bottom was Alabama, one of the poorest states in the country. Its ASD rate actually fell 20% between 2006 and 2008 — from 1 in 167 to 1 in 208.
Autism | Genetic Factors
Stanford University’s school of medicine recently released the results of the largest ever study of twins where at least one twin was diagnosed autistic. The results of this study were used to estimate that 62% of autism risk was environmental and only 38% genetic. Prior estimates estimated genetic factors as accounting for 90% of autism risk.
“It took me a bit by surprise that the heritability of autism was so much lower than previous studies calculated,” said Joachim Hallmayer, MD, the first author of the new paper, which appears in ‘Archives of General Psychiatry’. “Our work suggests that the role of environmental factors has been underestimated.”
Autism | Environmental Factors
- A recent study indicated that exposure to lacquer, varnish, and xylene occurred more often in the parents of children with ASD compared to the parents of unaffected children. Parents of children with ASD were more likely to report exposures to asphalt and solvents compared to parents of unaffected children. This study was limited by the small sample size, but results suggest that workplace exposures to some chemicals may be important in understanding the nature of ASD and deserve further investigation.
- A study of mothers living in the California Central Valley, an area of intense agricultural production, showed that children born to mothers who had been exposed to organochlorine (OC) insecticides within 500 meters of their home between days 26 and 81 of pregnancy were 7.6 times more likely to be diagnosed with ASD than the children of mothers who lived in areas with the lowest exposure to OC insecticides.
- While small mammals such as mice are often used in chemical and genetic experiments as a stand-in for humans, the nature of autism and its social interactions make it difficult to model in non-human species. However, the Prairie Vole, a small mammal that builds complex social structures has been used in experiments testing the impact of various chemicals on social interaction. Male Prairie Voles exposed to high levels of mercury displayed a pronounced decline in social interaction within their colony, a primary symptom of autism.
- PCB’s are a class of chemicals banned for production in the U.S. since 1979. However exposure to PCB’s remain a concern to human health because of their persistence in the environment. Studies in rodents and nonhuman primates have demonstrated the ability of PCBs to negatively affect brain function within critical regions for language development. Poor language and verbal communication skills are a frequent symptom of ASD.
- Taken together, numerous studies indicate that women exposed to pesticides have children with higher rates of immunological and behavioral abnormalities. It is possible that autism is downstream manifestation of the same underlying process given the tight interconnection between both these systems as they develop in-utero.
- In 2001, the reelin gene was implicated in autism risk. When parents had the gene, there was 72% transmission to affected children and only 32% transmission to unaffected children.
- Although pesticides are a biologically plausible contributor to autism, research in several critical areas is needed to understand cognitive and behavioral consequences of gestational exposure in humans. First, animal studies suggest critical windows of exposure, yet in humans the window or windows of biologic susceptibility remain unknown, and would be expected to vary by mechanism. Second, studies of nontoxic and environmentally relevant doses are needed to understand the effects of developmental neurotoxicity in the context of a background of genetic susceptibilities. Third, the vast majority of exposures occur in combination with exposures to other ubiquitous and/or persistent compounds such as flame retardants, plasticizers, and other pesticides. More research on combinations of exposures may reveal interactions between multiple environmental exposures, creating new toxins.
- While many studies point to the impact on ASD of environmental toxins such as pesticides, PCB’s, paint lacquer and others, the complexity of the analysis and the dearth of long-term large scale studies makes it difficult to pinpoint exact causes and precise impacts of toxins on ASD.
- “Our findings suggest that events during pregnancy should be a focus for future research into the origins of autism,” said Lisa Croen, PhD. Croen is a senior research scientist and director of the Autism Research Program at the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research.
Autism and Vaccination
- In 1998, a study published in the prominent British medical journal The Lancet proposed that the triple vaccination for mumps, measles, and rubella was a possible cause of autism.
- By 1999 the idea that vaccines caused autism had taken root in the popular consciousness; high profile celebrities and members of congress began championing the cause. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. published a magazine report that implicated the pharmaceutical industry in conspiracy to hide the evidence that chemicals, most notably mercury, used in several vaccines were definite causes of autism in children.
- The reaction in the scientific community was very different. Within months of the Lancet article several new studies were conducted that showed no link between vaccines and autism, but the genie was out of the bottle. Throughout the 2000’s, more celebrities and politicians joined the anti-vaccine crusade; Presidential candidate John McCain even got in on the act during a town hall meeting in Texas during his campaign against Barack Obama.
- Meanwhile, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Institute of Medicine and the American Academy of Pediatrics all concluded that the scientific evidence does not support a causal tie between autism and the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine.
- The 2000’s also saw an uptick in Measles/mumps/rubella cases, as a result of decreased vaccination rates spawned by the false information promoted by the anti-vaccine movement. In 2007, the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program is set up by the U.S. Federal Court to deal with thousands of claims by parents that vaccines caused their child to develop autism.
- In February of 2009, judges working for the U.S. Vaccine Injury Compensation Program decided against parents’ claims that vaccines had caused their children to develop autism. This ruling virtually eliminates any grounds for granting compensation in the roughly 5,000 remaining claims of vaccine-induced autism. In May of 2010 Andrew Wakefield, the chief proponent of the vaccine-autism link and the lead writer on the Lancet article that began the anti-vaccine furor, was stripped of his medical license in England.
Review| History and Information about Autism
Diagnoses rates of autism have skyrocketed in recent years. Autism is such a complex disorder(s), that not only is its cause not understood, even the reason for the increased diagnosis rate itself is not understood. Environmental factors have been shown to play a significant role, but their exact nature and method have yet to be deciphered.
Pregnant women should avoid exposure to pesticides and other strong chemicals. Even with these precautions, women and peri-natal children may unknowingly be exposed to toxins in the environment.
If you feel your child is not developing properly you are advised to take him/her to a variety of licensed and trained autism doctors and therapists.
Choosing to not vaccinate your child or engaging in any of a variety of “holistic” or “non-traditional” treatments may be counterproductive to your child’s health.
This report was prepared on behalf of The Autistic Society Fund and Good Charity Inc. director Brian J Maiorana.
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