Wednesday, January 09, 2008
Investigating the roots of Autism
What exactly causes autism? That is a question I get as much as any other. Of course, there is no absolute answer, but a study caught my eye and I was wondering what you thought. The study, in the Archives of General Psychiatry (Full Study) examines cases of autism in California since 1999. In that year, as you may know, manufacturers began removing thimerosal - a mercury based preservative - from vaccines. The researchers reasoned that if mercury exposure was a major cause of autism, the number of children with autism should have dropped after thimerosal was removed. (Read more or Watch Video)

That didn't happen. From 2004 to 2007, when exposure to thimerosal dropped significantly for 3- to 5-year-olds, the autism rates continued to go up from 3 in 1,000 to 4 in 1,000. Small numbers, but they still point to an important trend. In investigating this story, we interviewed independent doctors not affiliated with the study and one said, "This very clearly shows autism did not arrive through a vaccine."

There are others, though, who say, "Not so fast." And, there are a couple of important points to make. First off, if you really trace the vaccine, you will find thimerosal wasn't completely off the shelves until 2002 or 2003 according to the National Vaccine Information Center. Also, this particular study doesn't include children under the age of 3, which is obviously an important age group, when it comes to the diagnosis of autism.

We do know that the signs of autism may include no pointing or babbling by the age of 12 months. Not a single word by 16 months and no brief phrases by 24 months. Also, loss of language or social skills may be an indicator. None of these are absolute by any means and are just flags to look for. Still, though, where do you come down on the cause of autism? Still worried about mercury? Any thoughts on whether the causes are environmental, genetic or both?

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.

Also, I have to say that the thimerosol is still in the older shots which are still on many shelves of many doctors offices. Here in our town the doctor is under orders from the local hospital to use those mercury laden shots first. And not all the shots are mercury free - only the DPAT, HIB and HEP B. The rest (with the exception of the inhaled flu vaccine) have mercury. I wrote about this yesterday on my blog too. It's important.
Thank you for posing this question. I was angry when I read the article a few days ago about scientists saying that thimerosal had obviously nothing to do with it.

1. as you point out in this post, thimerosal was still on the shelves for a couple of years.

2. the flu shot still contains the preservative

3. to my understanding, some vaccines may still have traces of the preservative that are just "officially" too low to be considered "dangerous"... which is ridiculous because any chemist will tell you NO AMOUNT is safe.

4. there are other ingredients in vaccines that are most likely causing harm. From formeldahyde to the disease itself to the simple fact that we're shooting animal DNA into the human blood stream... in many cases for a disease that is not caught through the blood in the first place

5. there are several studies now that refer to gene/DNA mutation. There is proof that any toxic assault we experience in our lifetime gets recorded in our cells and mutations occur. So, for instance, I'm 30 years old and have indeed received many vaccines that contained mercury-preservative... that means my cells probably recorded this although it may not have had an immediate/obvious effect on me, HOWEVER, my mutated DNA, that of my husband's, that of our parents and their parents, all those combined, may lead to such an amount and combination of mutation that regardless of whether there continues to be thimerosal in todays shots or not, we will continue to see a rise in autism spectrum in our children. We've basically started an avalange.

Autism is not my my family history. No learning disability... not even glasses. I and my brother are the first ones with astigmatism, the first ones (both of us) with dyslexia, and both of my kids are in the autism spectrum. My son regressed after his booster shots at around age two. His younger sister received only one shot and I said "no more". I think toxic exposure history is being completely overlooked in this equasion, along with the fact that it's many things combined. Vaccines, pollution, food preservatives, amalgam fillings, seafood, terrible diets, etc. Yet, these studies often choose to just go one direction that will lead them to the conclusion that this one thing is not enough to cause damage. They should be looking at it in a sense that it is ADDING to the overall sum of toxins.

Thank you for listening.
Figuring out the "cause" of autism, and why the prevalence of autism has so greatly increased in the past few years, has become a central in many discussion about autism. The Archives of General Psychiatry study concludes that exposure to thimerosal.....during childhood is not a primary cause of autism and, as you note, these findings are being much debated all over the web, among parents and elsewhere.

My son is 10 1/2 and he was, as far as we can tell, born with autism. As he is getting older (and he is already my height), I and many other parents have become very concerned, and have started to advocate for, the supports and services that he and many other autistic children will need throughout their lives. I understand why parents of younger children, and of parents who are expecting children, have such concerns about a link between vaccines and autism. Unfortunately, the continuing public debate about this issue takes too much attention and energy from real, pressing issues.

What will be the options for housing and employment for autistic adults who require such services? How will staff be trained and supported?

I live in New Jersey, where my son is receiving an excellent education in a public school autism program. I was recently at a listening tour with staff for US Senator Robert Menendez. All of the parents at this meeting had children much older than my son and again and again I heard the question: We are giving autistic children a great education, but for what when they "age out"?

I hope that, as further evidence arises concerning vaccines and autism, that the public discussion can be about the truly pressing issues of education, supports, and services for autistic persons, children and adults.

Kristina Chew, Ph.D.
Saint Peter's College
New Jersey
My son was diagnosed with autism when he was 2 years and 10 months old. But we knew at 8 months old that something was not right because while other children his age were crawling, he was still not rolling over on his own. At 12 months he was diagnosed with apraxia. So for us, our son did not progress normally and then regress as many say happened to their children after receiving their immunization shots. I am not saying that mercury in shot did not have an effect as I honestly do not know. Scientist need to study the issue thoroughly from every possible angle to be sure. Autism also exists in the third world where many children do not receive immunizations from disease. But when all is said and done, I believe that children with autism are genetically predisposed to have autism and that autism is triggered by one or more exposures to something in the environment. I'll leave it up to the scientist to prove me right or wrong. Until then, I will continue to provide ABA therapies for my son and pray that the progress we are seeing through these therapies continue and that my son will be able to live as independently his life as possible!
If you accept the conclusions of this study than you MUST also accept that the number of cases of autism is increasing. (i.e. epidemic). If you reject the idea of an autism epidemic than you must also reject the conclusion of this study. You can’t have it both ways.

This study only addresses increasing numbers of children with autism and the partial removal of thimerosal from vaccines. The children in the study had an increasing number of vaccines. Therefore, any doctor that claims “This very clearly shows autism did not arrive through a vaccine.” should look for a new profession.

The bottom line is after nearly 10 years the government has still not done ANY toxicological safety testing of thimerosal and has NO SAFETY DATA to validate it’s safety claims. This study and all the other epi studies on thimerosal are worthless without toxicological safety testing.
Exposure didn't necessarily drop from 2004 to 2007. Flu shots were added for pregnant women and infants in about 2002, so as the other shots were dropping in amounts of thimerosal (supposedly), flu shots were increasing the overall amounts of thimerosal that children receive. Remember too, there was no recall so old stock would have thimerosal.
I think it is very troublesome to place a child on the "spectrum" before age 3. I have a 27 month old girl who was a late talker and had one sign of autism. When she got excited she would flap her hands. We took her to several doctors and finally a child neurologist said while he was not specialized in autism he felt that was a safe diagnosis. He referred us to a child autism expert in our area. This Dr. watched her play and interact with my husband and I and determined she was PDDNOS. He also stated we could join his program for a large fee and he would guarantee she would be fine. My husband and i had a long heart to heart and decided not to join his program but to try things at home and include speech therapy to try to bring her from her shell and get her talking. She had all the normal vaccines and doctor appointments that a child of 27 months has. After 2 months of speech therapy and a few changes at home she began to talk and the hand flapping slowed to almost nothing. This nightmare began when she was 18 months old and now she is 27 months, talking a storm, playing with every kid she meets, and beyond where she "should" be. The fear that some of these doctors can put in parents is crazy. If a child has just one of the characteristics of the spectrum they are placed on the spectrum and labeled. I think there should be more leeway for the very young kids who may just be late bloomers. Autism is scary and heartbreaking. Parents need to be their own advocate and do research on their own before just running with the first diagnosis they get. I am now pregnant and have decided that this child will not get the MMR vaccine at once. I will request to have the shots broken up. Better safe then sorry.
Thank you Dr Gupta for being THE voice of sense and reason with regard to autism. Your presentation is accurate and informed. I would have to assume there is some other change in our environment that has led to the increase in autism cases. Could it be lead or another heavy metal? I am convinced now that mercury was a red herring.

Dr. Steven Johns
That is an excellent lead in for someone who carries as loud a microphone as you. I applaud you for just not blindly repeating the headline "No autism vacccine link!". I am interested in this study but I am concerned with the faults of the study. I hope the discussion that follows here will be by informed people that have read the study in its entirety and can comment on both the strengths and the weaknesses of the study design. In my experience of how past studies of this type seem to have been manipulated I am concerned about the inclusion of older subjects up to 12 years old as depending on the type of analysis used this can hide the true results of the younger subjects. I am concerned as I am everytime that the CDC doctors seem to give the headline as if this proves absolutely something. I am keenly interested in how the ages were broken out, how they measured or accounted for mercury exposure other than vaccines. Also when using school system data typically the earliest solid numbers arive at between 5 and 6 years old as students show up into the system. Assuming mercury wasn't actually removed from shelf stock until 2003 and this study was done last year then we are talking only 3-4 year old subjects which might show the largest reduction, and they haven't shown up in the count yet, so that concerns me. I am also concerned about how a statistician would take into account the perhaps logical reality that over the past 5 years autism awareness is at an all time high (largely due to Autism Speaks high profile activities) so the idea that more mothers, pediatricians, and school personell are catching some milder cases that before they may play a role and could be a confounding factor for this study. Since the CDC doctors touting this study often have been quoted as saying the increase in autism is only due to increased awareness then I will be interested to see if they have accounted for this in some way in their analysis. Overall I hope the following discussion of the study will be educated, informative, and with great detail. Dr. Gupta again I appreciate you tempering your statement of facts realizing that this issue may not be as simple as some people would like it to be.

Dr. Gupta:

The problem with looking solely at Thimerosal is that it makes a false presumption that the rest of a vaccine is safe. For years, certain parents have blamed the MMR vaccine for their child's autism, a vaccine that never had mercury, but the only vaccine that includes three separate live viruses.

Separately, there is the issue of simultaneity. Between 1983 and today, the number of vaccines given to children has grown from 10 to 36. What if the aggregate load of vaccines, rather than a single ingredient, is the real issue?

None of the studies done to date would help us better understand these issues, and somehow what seems to be lost in the information coming out of California is that prevalence continues to rise.

My personal opinion, as the parent of an autistic child, is that the vaccine load in toal, and all the potential toxins in vaccines, are to blame. We need to study unvaccinated children and see if autism prevalence is the same - the CDC will never do this because no government agency will willingly cut off their own head.

JB Handley
Portland, OR
Good Afternoon, Dr. Gupta,

As a parent of two autistic sons, I would like to ask that the media would cover the research supporting the link between thimerasol and autism as much as they like to dismiss it. I would really like to ask all mothers to be to take this issue seriously, because it is.

Thimerasol is still routinely used in flu vaccines that is recommended for pregnant women during the first trimester of pregnancy. It is also an agent in the MMR and the DTP combination vaccines. Thimerasol is not gone from our shots, it is merely reduced.

When my first child was diagnosed with autism I thought that doctors made a mistake. I have never heard of autism. I do not have a family history of autism or any other developmental delay. My son was actually doing fine developmentally in his first 27 months, which is why I decided to have more kids and gave birth to twins when he was only 20 months old. When he was diagnosed, I looked at vaccines and decided that I will vaccinate my twins but ask doctors to check their stack of vaccines for preservatives. I wanted no amount of thimerasol in their systems. Yet, I find out now that my little boy is also autistic and he has received vaccines with thimerasol, regardless of all the safeguards I took.

Does thimerasol causes autism? I don't know. But neither does the medical community. Please do not position new mothers to dismiss this link so easy.

I am also asking you to look at the numbers. Better diagnosis is not the key to an epidemic. Yes, we may better classify some children as autistic, but it is also on the rise. When 1 in 150 children is autistic, better diagnosis cannot be the only answer. Before better diagnosis, did we have 1 in 150 children diagnosed with mental retardation?

We need to understand that autism is not just a spectrum, but possibly several disorders of different origins. We also need to understand that autism is not the new buzz word in the media. It is a devastating disorder, robbing children of their future, of their language, of their social interaction. It is robbing children from playing without fear and anxiety. It is a constant battle to find ways to maintain a strict regimen of no change, visual schedules, and unavoidable melt downs because we put two dashed into the soup instead of the one we always did in the past.

We have very real issue here. We have no healthcare for autism in most states. Speech therapy and ABA is excluded from both federal, state, and private insurance policies. We do not even have a system in place to find our children, who often wonder and get overwhelmed. We need insurance, we need an Amber Alert system in place for our autistic children without a voice. We need doctors who stand up for them and do not dismiss the mother who says "he is crying differently, I think something is wrong." We need everyone to understand how to deal with a lost autistic child and how to comfort them without overwhelming their senses. We need you to talk for them. We need the nation to understand that our dreams and hopes have been shattered and we will fight for our children each day and continue to push for finding the cause and the cure for autism in my children's lifetime.

We as a nation go to great lengths to help the children of other countries. That is commandable and I am proud of that. I would be even prouder if we would help the millions of American children suffering, along with their families, from autism.

Please, Dr. Gupta, I ask you, take the side of the children, talk for them, be a voice for them. You are respected and well loved. Please help our kids.

Krisztina Varga
Niles, Michigan
I do not believe that mercury causes Autism. It seems ignorant to believe that one thing, and one thing only, causes such a complex disorder.
I believe that Autism, like pretty much everything else, is caused by multiple factors, such as an interaction between genetics and environment.
Why don't you interview some of those mothers whose children had seizures immediatly after receiving vaccines and tragic health problems thereafter? I have not seen any followup of the obvious corelation between the vaccination and the reactions. I only see these studies from sources that one wonders who is funding.
Like a lot of people my child has Autism. But unlike a lot of people with Autism my son has Aspergers Syndrome. Its included in the Autism Spectrum Disorder. The public needs to realize Autism has two sides. Those people on the Aspergers side have lost the socialization skills they need, so require special training all public schools offer. But they gained a very high IQ, and an extremely fast processing ability. In other words they're brilliant. My son high school GPA approaches 4.000. He's always been on the honor role, even though he is in special education for socialization skills. Like lots of children with autism he began his education at 18 months old. Now 16 years later he is a normal child with extremely fast mental abilities. He plans a career in medicine! And his guidance counclors agree he will do well there.

The public is not fully aware of this side of autism. It's a potent socialization disability, but with proper special education my child has excelled to the top of his class in all his subjects. Music, art, math, science, journalism everything. The public needs to realize that everyone affected with autism does not neeed to be rubber stamped into oblivion. Just about everyone I speak to knows very little about any side of Autism. And have completely wrong ideas about it. Only people who deal with it constantly have an understanding.

Most of the people with Autism do not have Aspergers.
I continue to wish someone would study the possibility that so many vaccines are triggering the immune systems to cause autism in susceptible children.
Granted there are some kids who are in fact austistic, there are many many more who are not and getting misdiagnosed. This leads to the higher numbers of autistic cases. Many late talking kids, ones who don't start talking until past age 3 are getting put on the autism spectrum. Then once they start talking, all of a sudden they are no longer austistic.

It's as if the medical community can't deal with the fact some kids are just in fact late talkers, so they must put them on the 'spectrum' and give them a label. It's just wrong putting kids on the spectrum just because of a speech delay. So, people need to look at how many of these kids who are autistic are "truly" autistic and the ones who are on the spectrum due to a speech delay. I have read many parent emails of their kids getting misdiagnosed because of a speech delay.

We don't give my child immunizations shots all at once either, we space them out. Just in case it turns out in 20 years of research, they do determine the immunizations do have side effects.
Frankly I am stumped at the continuing debate over the role of vaccines in autism.

I am the parent of an 11 year old boy with autism who, due to a mix up by our GP, was not vaccinated until he was 6 years old but was certainly autistic long before then. There is no way the vaccines could have contributed to his autism in any way.

Surely we are not the only ones on the planet that have an autistic child who was not vaccinated.

I lean towards the belief that there is a predisposition for autism and a trigger that sets it off. I am open to the idea that for some the trigger may be vaccines but on the other hand I know for a fact that it is not always the case.

I think the autism/vaccine link has been examined thoroughly enough for now. It's time to broaden our research and start looking in new directions.
Throughout our son's first year of life he rarely reached developmental milestones at the appropriate age. Fortunately, our pediatrician recommended that our son (18 months) see a developmental pediatrician for a neuro-developmental evaluation. At the age of 18 months the evaluation gave us a diagnosis of global developmental delays and a regimen of speech, occupational, and behavioral therapies was recommended. At that time the dev pediatrician held on any diagnois of an Autism Spectrum Disorder until more stimulation and therapy was provided. From the age of 20 months we moved forward with the triad of therapies and also placed him in a day school for children with developmental delays and Autism. At the age of 3 years he was diagnosed with PDD NOS due to significant speech delays and poor imitative skills - despite all the therapy and special instruction. Around the age of 3.5 years he developed hyperventilation-like episodes, which we thought were seizures. The episodes occured only when he woke up and lasted a less than a minute sometimes longer. We then proceeded with extensive testing including: metabolic studies, MRI's, and Video EEG's (electroencephalogram) - all of which came out inconclusive or negative for any form of epileptic discharge. After a discussion with our pediatric neurologist and consultation with our dev pediatrician we decided to proceed with trials of epileptic medications; some worked to lessen the episodes and in the end the medication was of no benefit. As our son approached the age of 4 an enourmous sense of despair grew over my husband and I - we felt despite our best efforts we still had not found an answer to our son's condition. At this time we decided to push further and try genetic testing in hopes of finding an answer to our son's delays, his autistic behaviours, and the latest development of the seizure-like episodes. The selection of genetic testing included: chromosomal microarray analysis, MECPS molecular testing, DNA for Fragile X and Cornelia de Lange, and a few others. In the end the Chromosomal microarray analysis revealed our son had 3p minus syndrome - a loss in the short arm of Chromosome 3. This loss in the short arm encompassed the segment of Chromosome 3 at 3p25.3p26.1. Upon further research we have discovered that 3p minus syndrome is in itself a very rare syndrome - less than 30 diagnosed cases in the US alone - and to my knowledge has not been researched in relation to Autism, which I think could be helpful due to the early autistic like symptoms our son exhibited. In the end, we have a diagnosis that helps us gain a little closure on his condition and provides a sense of peace that we have done our very best to understand and educate ourselves in order to create a proper developmental and educational plan to help our son reach his full potential. I hope this is helpful and informative to parents struggling to find an answer.
The latest study indicating that vaccines do not cause autism should encourage all concerned to take another look at the facts, namely:

· Some parents have witnessed dramatic regressive changes in their children after vaccinations.
· Many large studies have proven that autism is not caused by either thimerosal or the MMR (mumps, measles, rubella) shot.

The untold story is most likely what happens in the small percentage of children who experience high fevers for 12 hours or more following shots.

Why would some of these children recover from fevers, while others suffer devastating damage that lands them on the autism spectrum? All cells contain heat shock proteins designed to protect them from the dangers of elevated temperatures by stopping metabolic processes. If these heat shock proteins are damaged, the brain, in particular, could be vulnerable to irreversible harm.

As for what could damage heat shock proteins in the first place, it is time to take a hard look at prenatal ultrasound. Although most people associate ultrasound with inaudible sound waves, few people know that most of the sound waves are transformed into heat, which can potentially damage cells. Although ultrasound is considered safe, studies making that claim are so flawed as to be useless. Why would anyone assume that introducing any amount of heat to the embryonic or fetal environment would be without consequences?

Caroline Rodgers
Matawan NJ
Author of “Questions about Prenatal Ultrasound and the Alarming Increase in Autism,” available online at
Good-morning Dr.Sanjay Gupta

Thank you for following up on this issue..... Your issue is unique and interesting.

As you said there is no absolute answer about the cause of autism. In my opinion mercury and autism have close relationship. So we should not inject the vaccines which contain thimerosal to infants.
As far as I know mercury can be release through urine and sweat, but if some infants have not good releasing functions, they can be contracted by autism easily. I think autism means subtle malfunction of brain, and mercury functions that role. In Korea the number of autism patients and atopy patients are increasing compare to the previous years. Anyway the cause of autism is mercury but environmental pollution is also an important cause of autism. You have opened the eyes of everyone!! Thanks a lot. Take care :-)
Truly an informational dialog! I tend to agree with the many who suspect an additive cumulative effect, and also that there are multiple environmental components in the mix. We prepared all our own "baby food" for our now 18 yr old daughter, for example. No preservatives. Organic foods, if genuine, may help? We are increasingly becoming a chemically exposed society!
All this being said, I have experiential, and anecdotal stories which show great improvement in diagnosed Autistic cases using tried & true, quality nutritional supplements. Reality is results are there - not a cure, but vast improvements. Our bodies are designed to repair DNA damages, particularly in the young. Somehow, whatever we are exposed to or missing in our dietary choices is lacking? Good area for further study? I can be reached by email, for info if desired.
Behavioral epidemiology is incredibly difficult and an environmental causal factor must have a high enough population-attributable-risk for current research methods to be able to detect it. It becomes even more difficult with an illness like autism, which has a spectrum of overlapping symptomology and historical changes in diagnostic frequency and accuracy. Vaccines alone are most likely not necessary or sufficient to cause autism. If there is a relationship, it is likely a drug-by-genetics [autoimmune system, protective factors, etc] interaction, like there is with most illnesses. Although so little is known about autism, what's clear is that not all kids will get autism from vaccines and not all cases of autism are caused by vaccines. That's not to say there isn't a link in some cases, however, since there have been studies showing hypersensitivity to thimerosol in certain human populations and gene-dependent negative autoimmune reactions to thimerosol in animal studies. Limited research suggests that some cases of regressive autism may result from vaccine-induced encephalopathy. Unfortunately, the research reports that are published in the popular media tend to take an all-or-nothing approach and the Ecological Fallacy is pretty rampant on both sides of this debate (including the latest study cited by Dr. Gupta). There is also a clear bias towards reporting the studies showing no links between autism and mercury.

Hopefully one day soon we will understand what does and does not cause it (and by "it" I mean an illness that likely has many distinct types with distinct etiologies).
As Dr. Steven Johns just stated in his comment "mercury is a red herring" - and this study proves that. In fact, we've had a number opf good studies demonstrating that we're barking up the wrong tree by trying to link mercury with autism. Time to move on and broaden our thinking.

I believe children with autism have a genetic predisposition and something in the environment triggers the condition. While it would be amazing if we could identify the cause to minimize this increase we are seeing, I'm very concerned we are not paying enough attention to helping these kids become young adults and then adults. Our resources are clearly not being allocated correctly at the moment.

We also have to realize we know a great deal more today about how to identify autism than we did even a few years ago. So, this rise we are seeing may partially be artificial. I know many parents don't want to acknowledge that possibility but it must be considered if we are to look at autism objectively.

Until the high emotion settles down, it may be impossible to really evaluate autism in a manner that gives us reasonable answers. There has to be more of an air of open-mindedness and a willingness to think outside the box in general for any progress to be made. This goes for parents and doctors.Right now the blame game is muddying the waters and creating an aura of defensiveness...that's no way to conduct research and clearly not in the best interest of any child.
First of all I am not a doctor and do not claim to be, merely a concerned young adult. I do agree that something is to blame for an increase in Autism but also do believe that it could not be from one singular source. Yes mercury is a harmful metal, but I also believe it may not be the smoking gun. Yes it could increase the likely hood of Autism occurring, I will absolutely agree with that. I was always informed that high blood pressure during pregnancy could also resort an increased chance of Autism. So is it possible that Autism is genetic and that heavy metals and other contributing factors could increase the likely hood of Autism, possibly. I grew up around an Autistic child and know how devastating it can be for the family. This is just my opinion, it probably isn't 100% accurate.

Not to take the attention from the thimerosal issue, but a report was just released today stating that scientists have found a gene mutation that they are linking to autism (in 1% of cases)....I wonder if you can address in your column the science behind gene mutations. This current report would lead us to think that parents must be passing down faulty genes to their children which makes them susceptible to autism. From my limited understanding, genes can be changed by a mutagenic toxin--and not a bad gene from parents...If that is the case, we need to understand what toxins can actually mutate this gene that has been isolated to cause autism.

Considering the amount of mercury exposure that all of us get and don't develop autism, it is hard for me to believe that mercury causes autism, or at least that it is the main factor at play. If we assume that autism is at least as complex as cancer, that means several things have to happen, in a particular order, and at a particular time. There probably isn't a single cause, as is usually the case w/ complex chronic diseases. While the scientists work in their labs on the biochemistry of autism, I think the best thing we can do is try to see what differentiates high performing autistic children from those that are not and see how much we can minimize the impact for those who have it now.
As a teacher since 1978, working with children with developmental delays, I feel the need to make at least some comment on this subject. I do believe that there has been an increase in the number of children who are diagnosed with autism. I have worked with many autistic childen.

But, I must admit that, as the pendulum swings, in, at least education, autism was "the" bad word pediatricians were afraid to use and as early as ten years ago when I was evaluating children for early intervention services, "autism" or a simple request for a "rule out" autism from a pediatrician was forbidden/shunned on any piece of
paper leaving my desk. We were told to use the letters PDD or Pervasive Developmental Disorder.

Here is my concern. There are children who are simply born with some developmental delay for whatever reason who are simply NOT autistic. They may just simply be born with a delay which doesn't fit into a catagory or can be found on a genetic screening. I have two cousins who are simply delayed and have never been able to be diagnosed, have been tested ad nauseum and they are in their early twenties. Are they autistic, no. They simply do not speak and can only do the simplest of self help/housekeeping duties and both live in groups home. It is also not genetic because one is on my mother's side, the other, on my father's side. Obviously they for some reason have some sort of brain damage which could have simply been caused by their moms having a mild viral infection during ther pregnancies.

As educators, we no longer use the word "retarded." It is taboo. So we changed it to developmentally delayed because it sounded more politically correct.

My heart goes out to every family whose child I have had the priviledge to work with whose child is autistic, and there have been many, many familes and children. It has been a joy to be with these very special children.

All I am saying that autism is a very specific disorder with extremely specific symptoms. All I am trying to put out there is don't let a doctor throw this autism diagnosis at you without doing lots of research and have your child tested genetically because your child may NOT be
autistic. The diagnosis may actually metabolic or diet related. I believe the numbers are growing too big too fast for all these beautiful children to dumped into some autistic pile. And my gosh, how awful for parents if they could have done something differently to gain access to something tangible and workable (ie an allergy to soy or wheat).

Parents, I implore you to get all
the facts. Don't simply take this diagnosis and let your child be another number.

God bless you all in your search
for answers.
It could be a disease. It could be hereditary. It could be something in the environment.

A lot of attention was recently focused on vaccines and the possible implication of thimerosal in the vaccines. There is apparently no correlation between thimerosal and autism according to recent studies. Thimerosal is a preservative that, according to internet sources, has been used in vaccines since the 1930s. Unless autism is a communicable disease, I should think that we should be looking for something introduced more recently...

The use of prenatal ultrasound imaging is something that was not in use until relatively recently. Ultrasound has MANY biological effects:

1. Selective heating or burning of nerves and loss of their ability to conduct nerve impulses. (Laboratory animals)
2. Heating of bone-tissue interfaces. (Humans, laboratory animals)
3. Tinnitus (ringing of the ears.) (Humans)
4. Death of mice and rats. (Laboratory animals)
5. Clotting of blood. (Laboratory animals)
6. Burning of tissue. (Laboratory animals)
7. Hemorrhage in the gastro-intestinal tract. (Laboratory animals)
8. Permanent paralysis. (Laboratory animals)
9. Cataracts on lens and cornea of eyes. (Laboratory animals)
10. Bone growth inhibition. (Laboratory animals)

Some of these effects are much more noticeable at high power levels but some of them occur even at minute power levels. I wonder if anyone has an answer to the following questions:

1. What is the percentage of autistic children whose mothers allowed ultrasound imaging to be done on them?

2. What is the percentage of autistic children whose mothers DID NOT allow ultrasound imaging to be done on them?

I have more information on my suspicions regarding this at
Dr. Gupta, I recently went to a conference in which compelling evidence indicates the prenatal use of alcohol and recreational drugs can and does affect the brain development of babies. It also points to autism. What harm would it do to begin collecting data on this possibility? Each physician is asked to include a simple question during a pregnancy exam. "During the month before you suspected you were pregnant, did you use alcohol, tobacco or recreational drugs?" The conference presenter emphasized that most women will stop using alcohol when they know they are pregnant, but in the month or two prior to knowing, there may have been use. I think this possibility is overlooked because wine, for instance, is thought to be healthy and part of our genteel culture.
A lot of people are ignoring the genetic aspect. If you have multiple children with autism, you have to look at their genetic make-up and throwing blame at mercury, vaccines, heavy metals, etc. isn't going to change anything. If you had 2 children with cystic fibrosis, even if you never had a family history of it, would you blame food preservatives, or would you accept that perhaps you and your partner both carried a gene that all of your children happened to get. Geneticists should look at autism and see if it is linked to a recessive trait.
Whatever the causes of autism are, we need to be very careful not to falsely implicate a single culprit without definitive evidence. As an American living with autism, I think it's more likely that the trauma of a child's first vaccination prompts expression of existing autistic traits than that the vaccination itself causes autism. I can testify that stress and trauma trigger autistic behavior in myself and family members.
Could this rise in Autism be blamed on the fact that couples are having babies when they are older, as opposed to 20 or 30 years ago? I know that, especially as women get older, the "safety" of their eggs decreases (ie the link to age of pregnancy and Downs Syndrome).

Also, is autism more commonly diagnosed, and medically and socially accepted than it was several decades ago? Older literature often refers to the mentally challenged as "insane," or "idiots," when the author was probably referring to those with autism. Is it just that our diagnosis has become more precise and acepted?
Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN's chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends -- info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.
CNN Comment Policy: CNN encourages you to add a comment to this discussion. You may not post any unlawful, threatening, libelous, defamatory, obscene, pornographic or other material that would violate the law. Please note that CNN makes reasonable efforts to review all comments prior to posting and CNN may edit comments for clarity or to keep out questionable or off-topic material. All comments should be relevant to the post and remain respectful of other authors and commenters. By submitting your comment, you hereby give CNN the right, but not the obligation, to post, air, edit, exhibit, telecast, cablecast, webcast, re-use, publish, reproduce, use, license, print, distribute or otherwise use your comment(s) and accompanying personal identifying information via all forms of media now known or hereafter devised, worldwide, in perpetuity. CNN Privacy Statement.