Thursday, November 18, 2010

Autism and the NBEN Collaborative on Children's Environmental Health

I attended the New Brunswick Environmental Network meeting of the NB Collaborative on Children's Environmental Health November 16, 17 in Fredericton although I had to leave a bit early on the second day.  It was an impressive gathering of government, business and non-profit organizations focused on environmental health issues generally.  The highlight of the gathering for me was the participation of guest speaker  Maryse Bouchard, who has studied, and provided evidence, of the negative neuro-psychological impact of manganese found in drinking water supplies on children and adolescents.  Professor  Bouchard is an Adjunct Professor, CINBIOSE, UQAM and Researcher, CHU Sainte-Justine. She was the lead researcher of the team that released a study which showed that children exposed to high concentrations of manganese in drinking water performed worse on tests of intellectual functioning than children with lower exposures.

Although I attended this excellent meeting with the intention of just listening I did in fact mention in response to a question concerning autism that autism research funding  has been almost exclusively directed toward genetic autism research but that the emerging view is that autism results from the interaction of genetic and environmental factors.  I did mention vaccines and autism solely to state that it is the view of some distinguished health authorities that the epidemiological studies are not conclusive on the vaccine autism issues. 

When each participant was asked about successes they had experienced in their efforts I mentioned the institution in New Brunswick, as a result of parent advocacy, of government funded preschool autism intervention by properly trained staff, autism specific training of Teacher Aides and Resource Teachers and the accommodation in neighborhood schools of individual autistic children based on their challenges and needs.  I mentioned that some autistic children prosper in New Brunswick mainstream classrooms but that some, including my son at our request, do much better in individualized learning environments in neighborhood schools.

It was, overall, a very good conference. If I could point to one area for improvement for an environmental collaborative focusing on environmental health of children  it would be to focus more attention on the prenatal environment of the child.  The months before  birth constitute one of the most crucial development periods for any child and it is a period of vulnerability to substances crossing the placenta, from any source, including vaccines, epidurals and ultrasounds. The connection of preterm births and cesarean section deliveries on autism rates should  be explored more fully.  The  expecting mother's  uterus is the most important environment for any child's  development and environmental autism research  must include that environment.

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