Friday, January 09, 2009

Environmental Causes of Autism - It Is Time To Get The Research Done

The new UC Davis Mind Institute study indicating the likelihood of environmental factors in the dramatic increases in autism cases in California is a step forward in the still developing autism research paradigm shift that investigates autism disorders and their causes from the perspective that autism is caused by a combination of environmental influence and genetic vulnerabilities:

Autism research is poised for another paradigm shift, from an irreversible condition to a treatable disease. In the revolutionary paradigm, autism is not a rare disorder with a constant rate but frequent condition with a rising incidence. It is a combination of environmental influence and genetic vulnerabilities. It is both preventable and treatable, not by any one method but by a combination of behavioral and biomedical approaches. Autistic kids are not defective, they are sick but otherwise normal kids, and thus, recoverable

University of Minnesota, Press Release, July 2007

The move to a combined environmental-genetic research model seems to be long overdue. The vaccine-autism controversy may well have pushed public authorities away from possible environmental causes of autism generally but it is difficult to understand why anyone ever assumed that autism is entirely genetically determined. In a December 2007 interview piece published on TimesOnLine, Freedom of Expression, Professor Simon Baron-Cohen made the following salient observiation:

Studies of twins have established that it is not 100 per cent genetic, since even among identical twins, when one has autism, the likelihood of both twins having autism is only about 60 per cent. This means there must also be an environmental component, but what it is remains unknown. 

The vaccine-autism controversies have generated entrenched positions and ideologies on all sides of those controversies.  One of the unfortunate tendencies has been a tendency to berate and ridicule any mention of possible environmental causes of autism disorders. Another has been a focus on genetic research to the near exclusion of environmental factors.  That has begun to change, as called for in the University of Minnesota 2007 press release but the change is not as fast as it could be.  

The vaccines we give children still contain the mercury based preservative thimerosal, according to the FDA web site and children are exposed to a variety of toxic materials in toys and jewelry including mercury, lead, and arsenic.  If specific environmental factors are causing or contributing to autism, whether in isolation, or in concert, then preventative measures can be taken and research into curing autism can, and should,  incorporate those factors.

It is time to drop the rigid, ideological belief that autism is 100% genetic and get the environmental research done to help our children.

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Anonymous said...

"This means there must also be an environmental component, but what it is remains unknown."

Actually, if SBC said that, it isn't true. If it were true, that because autism isn't a 100% correlated with twins and it must be environmental, then how does this happen:

Unknown said...

Anonymous 11:05

You said "IF SBC said that"

In the comment I provided a link to the Times On Line article "Freedom of Expression" from which the SBC quote is taken.

Mark said...

In the UK we have been calling the ND friendly National Autistic Society to comment on this story. they say is US news and not relevant!! unbelievable!