Autism Spikes, Toxins Suspected
As the national focus on the H1N1 pandemic rages, additional
evidence of a more insidious epidemic has emerged, with an all-too-expected
shrug from the mainstream media. Results from two federal studies
announced in October say parents have a 1-in-100-or-greater chance
of having a child with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Since
boys are four times more likely to have an ASD, their odds are
as high as 1 in 60.
On Oct. 2, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen
Sebelius told the press and about 50 members of the autism community
that an unreleased Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
(CDC) study shows the incidence of 8-year-olds born in 1996 with
ASDs is 1 in 100. The agency's last two studies of children born
in 1992 and 1994 put the chance at 1 in 150.
On Oct. 5, the journal Pediatrics published the results of HHS's
Maternal and Child Health Bureau's "2007 National Survey
of Children's Health," which showed 1 in 91 children between
the ages of 3 and 17 had autism.
ASDs include Autistic Disorder, Asperger's Disorder and Pervasive
Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS), which
are characterized by lifelong developmental deficits in social,
behavioral and communication skills. According to the CDC, citizens
with ASDs "have significant impairments in social skills
and communication. They often have repetitive behaviors and unusual
The National Survey of Children's Health data was drawn from
telephone surveys of 78,000 parents who said their children had
been diagnosed and still have ASDs. While its methodology has
been criticized, the results aren't too far out of range of other
In Indiana, a grossly polluted state with comparatively high
rates of autism, data reported to the Indiana Department of Education,
by every public school system in the state, have shown spikes
in the numbers of children enrolled in special education under
the category "autistic" over the past three years. The
federally required counts are called Child Count Data.
"Last year 1 in 128 students were served under the eligibility
category of Autism Spectrum Disorders," Cathy Pratt, director
of the Indiana Resource Center and chair of the National Autism
Society of America, said for a story last spring. "This year's
identification rate is 1 in 113."
In June, Pratt reported the latest figures in an e-mail to The
Bloomington Alternative: "Now the Child Count Data is showing
1 in 101." In another e-mail last week she confirmed its
currency: "That is the latest data I have."
As Huffington Post blogger David Kirby observed in his post of
Oct. 9, the mainstream media's response to the new CDC data has
been "rather nonchalant." But the implications of the
new incidence measures are anything but mundane. They are "startling,"
as Kirby, author of the best-selling book Evidence of Harm: Mercury
in Vaccines and the Autism Epidemic: A Medical Controversy, says.
Improved diagnostics and changing criteria have long complicated
the sometimes incendiary national debate about autism, its incidence
and its causes.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders,
Fourth Edition (DSM-IV), published in 1994, expanded the ASD criteria
to include Asperger's and PDD-NOS. So the 0.44 autism cases per
1,000 live births that the California Department of Health Services
found in 1980, for example, couldn't be accurately compared to
CDC studies that showed the rate at 6.7 and 6.6 per 1,000 in 1992
and 1994. The California subjects were diagnosed before the DSM-IV
changes, the CDC subjects after.
But the new 1-in-100 ratio of children born in 1996 appears to
be a legitimate comparison. All three subject groups were identified
under the same diagnostic criteria. And while the actual study
will not be released until later this year, it doesn't appear
that the CDC has altered its methodology.
And federal officials' reported response to the new numbers suggests
drama. In an Oct. 5 piece in Age of Autism, Kirby described Sebelius's
call to the autism community as a "hastily arranged telephone
'visit,'" during which she announced that the "prevalence
of autism might be even higher than previously thought."
The secretary then hedged a bit -- "We don't know if it
has gone up, and we are hoping to unlock these mysteries."
-- declared autism an "urgent public health challenge"
and "promptly ended her visit," Kirby continued.
The Associated Press reported on Oct. 5 that CDC announced the
unpublished 1-in-100 findings "during an embargoed press
briefing" in response to the published children's health
survey's 1-in-91 rate.
Dr. Thomas R. Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental
Health and chair of the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee,
provided more detail.
In an interview with the Chicago Tribune, he sounded a cautionary
note similar to Sebelius's. "It is not entirely clear what
(the) increase is due to," he said. "It is not clear
more children are affected rather than just changes in our ability
Another interview with an AP medical writer was more sobering.
"The concern here is that buried in these numbers is a true
increase," Insel said. "We're going to have to think
very hard about what we're going to do for the 1 in 100."
No one knows what causes autism, let alone what is responsible
for the statistical evidence that its prevalence is spiking. Honestly,
if someone was going to give a talk on the etiology or causes
of autism, it would be entirely speculative, according to
Dr. Christopher McDougle, an autism researcher and chair of the
psychiatry department at the Indiana University School of Medicine.
Theres nothing thats known.
Research has focused on perinatal and prenatal causes, he said,
because autistic symptoms appear between the ages of 1 and 1½.
Prenatal suspects include fetal damage from medications, abnormal
brain development from genetic causes or infections. Contributing
factors at birth could be prematurity, lack of oxygen to the brain,
prolonged labor or infections. Shortly after birth: infections
or environmental contributions.
A growing number of researchers believe that autism is triggered
in genetically predisposed individuals by an "environmental
hit," McDougle said.
Count Kirby among those who argue that environmental pollution
is the likely culprit in the autism epidemic. Federal health officials
who led the AP to report, Greater awareness, broader definitions
and spotting autism in younger children may explain some of the
increase, are misguided, he argued.
Some have called it good news that doctors
are now so proficient at diagnosing the milder forms of ASD,
Kirby wrote in the Huffington Post.
Many will call
me an alarmist, but I believe that 1-in-60 boys with an autism
spectrum disorder is a national crisis -- and not just a reassuring
confirmation of how things have always been.
Plus, he added, to buy that argument is to accept the conclusion
that 1-in-60 American males, young and old, have an ASD. Do
you really believe that 1 in 60 American men are autistic?
For Kirby, the parallel rise in environmental pollution and autism
rates are related. And federal officials need to shift their focus
They don't seem to feel that rising levels of environmental
toxic exposures in genetically susceptible children might also
be at play here, he wrote in the Huffington Post. I
personally believe that toxins like mercury can trigger ASD in
children. These toxic exposures are on the rise, and so is the
incidence of ASD.
Steven Higgs is a freelance writer in Bloomington, Ind., and
editor of The Bloomington Alternative, www.BloomingtonAlternative.com.
He can be reached at editor@BloomingtonAlternative.com.
full list of h1n1 vaccine ingredients, alerts and warnings.
Reference Sources: www.counterpunch.org
November 3, 2009