Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Toronto Star Repeats Outdated 100% Genetic View of Autism Causation

The Toronto Star's Heather Mallick, to her credit, writes in Mallick: The autism enigma — beauty and silence about some of the realities and misconceptions about autism. Ms Mallick and the Toronto Star point out that autism is not as pretty as it appears to some, that at the more severe end of the autism spectrum are some people who, without intensive behavioral therapy,  can not control their actions and will engage in self injurious behavior like hand biting. This type of candid, honest commentary about autism disorders is rare in the mainstream media which tends to focus on promoting high functioning autistic success stories.

In the course of her comments though Heather Mallick repeats an old, and increasingly outdated, view of autism causation ... that autism is essentially 100% genetic:

"No one knows the cause. Some say pollutants or multiple vaccinations in infancy (now discredited with the disgrace of British researcher Andrew Wakefield) but genetics will out. That’s because autism is inherited, a fact that causes panic and grief among parents who blame themselves yet are without fault, unless they continue to have children, some of whom will be autistic. There is no amnio test. It’s a roll of the dice." [Underlining added - HLD]

The opinion that autism is 100% genetic is no longer the dominant view about autism causation.  That opinion has been based largely on the fact that autism research funding had been directed almost overwhelmingly towards genetic based autism research.  That view was adopted even though, as stated several times by Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, in cases where an identical twin has autism the other twin does not always have autism pointing to a gene environment interaction as the bases for autism disorders. Many years later genetic autism research has failed, totally failed to find a single genetic basis for autism disorders.  The emerging view is that autism in fact results from gene environment interaction with much research to be done on the environmental side of that equation as stated on  the IACC website:

"As with many complex disorders, [autism] causation is generally thought to involve some forms of genetic risk interacting with some forms of non-genetic environmental exposure. ... In addition, a number of other environmental factors are being explored through research because they are known or suspected to influence early development of the brain and nervous system. Recent studies suggest factors such as parental age, exposure to infections, toxins, and other biological agents may confer environmental risk. ... Progress in identifying environmental factors which increase autism risk has been made recently (Eskenazi et al., 2007; Palmer et al., 2006; Palmer, Blanchard,; Wood, 2009; Rauh et al., 2006; Roberts et al., 2007; Windham et al., 2006), although this area of research has received less scientific attention and far fewer research dollars than genetic risk factors"[Underlining added - HLD]      - United States IACC (Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee)

The causes of autism disorders are not known.  There is little dispute that genetic factors play a significant role. There is also an increasing awareness that environment plays a role and that autism results from gene environment interaction.  This understanding should be made known to mainstream media institutions throughout Canada and the United States.

That point aside, however, kudos to Heather Mallick and the Toronto Star for presenting autism honestly as what it is, a disorder, one which is not always pretty for those who suffer from it.

1 comment:

farmwifetwo said...

I don't consider the Toronto Star to be the best newspaper source out there. Ranks right up there with CBC for sensationalism instead of actual facts.

Got an invite to here Dr Derrick MacFabe speak next month - curious mostly, no strong opinions. A Dr the anti-gut people would happily bash if they looked outside of the USA for autism research.