By Rich Kozlovich
Most of this is directly quoted from the American Council on Science and Health’s Morning Dispatches of December 21 and 22, 2009. The Morning Dispatch deals with every health issue that arises, whether it is West Nile Virus or H1N1 (Swine Flu), smoking, chemical scares or any other of the host of issues we hear about in the media daily. Find out if these issues are real or merely another scare from some activist group! Hear “the rest of the story”! If anyone is interested in receiving these daily dispatches you can do so by becoming a member of ASCH.
Over the years I have heard all sorts of claims about autism and what causes it. The reality is that they don’t really know, although it has been pointed out in the past that there are clear indications of a genetic problem that may have nothing to do with environmental issues. An article in TIME reveals that “[o]ne in 110 American children are considered to fall somewhere along the autism spectrum, according to the latest report released by the federal government. … The estimate also represents a stunning 57% increase in prevalence since 2002, when health officials first began a nationwide effort to quantify the risk of autism in childhood.”
“The question is: is there really an increase or is this a matter of expanding the definition for purposes of enhanced and more accurate detection?” asks ACSH’s Dr. Elizabeth Whelan.
An article on this study in the New York Times arrived at the same question: “Prevalence estimates for these disorders have increased so sharply in recent years — to 1 in 150 in 2007, from 1 in 300 in the early 2000s — that scientists have debated whether in fact the disorder is more common, or diagnosed more often as a result of higher awareness.
‘A simple explanation is not apparent, and a true increase in risk cannot be ruled out,’ Catherine Rice, lead author of the study and a behavioral health scientist at the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, said in a conference call with reporters.”
“They have some good baseline data from 2002 which does seem to show that the prevalence of autism spectrum disorders is increasing, but we don’t know what the actual rate was 20 or even 10 years ago,” adds ACSH’s Dr. Gilbert Ross. “Both the frequency and the rate of increase that they’ve determined is certainly a concern. Such a devastating condition in almost one percent of American children is a big problem, and we have no idea what may be causing this disease.
“Of course, people in the so-called ‘environmental’ groups will attempt to frighten parents by saying that this tragic illness is due to exposure to environmental chemicals, but the fact is that there hasn’t been any link between environmental chemicals and autism, and there really couldn’t be any possible link since almost all of the most commonly encountered environmental chemicals have been utilized for decades, and there hasn’t been any increase in exposures. It’s the same problem with the myths about so-called ‘endocrine disruptors’ and breast cancer being linked to environmental chemicals, but unfortunately that’s how it happens with environmental activists – all they need is a rumor to impugn a chemical and make it one of their ‘facts.’”
Yesterday, MD mentioned the rise in the number of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) cases in the U.S., noting that as many as 1 in 110 children are now diagnosed with ASD. ACSH staffers wondered to what extent this rise was real, and to what extent it represents more acuity in detection, diagnosis, and data collection.
An ACSH Scientific Advisor and avid MD reader – who, incidentally, has a son with ASD – weighed in:
“I think the new numbers represent the increased awareness and higher rates of expanded-criteria diagnoses. When I went to public school, in the 1930's, I remember that in most of my classes there was at least one kid who was peculiar, who couldn't relate to his peers--and they were often bullied by their classmates. If memory serves, there were more than one in a hundred of these kids. Another factor may be that kids previously diagnosed with mental disorders are often now diagnosed as autistic: the rates of mental disorder diagnoses are going down as the rates of autism diagnoses increases.”