Sunday, March 15, 2009

Does Vaccine Patent Holder Paul Offit Even Know What Autism Is?

Does vaccine patent holder Dr. Paul Offit even know what autism is?

Dr. Offit has been on a never ending crusade against parents of autistic children concerned about vaccine impacts on children, and professionals who share their concerns. The extent of his autism expertise has never been entirely clear though. Dr. Jon Poling questioned Dr. Offit's autism expertise in his Atlanta Journal Constitution guest editorial, Blinders won't reduce Autism, March 13, 2009. Wikipedia has a glowing summary of the heroic vaccine patent holder's career as a pediatrician specializing in infectious diseases, an internationally known expert on vaccines, immunology, and virology. The article makes no mention of any autism expertise or actual involvement by Dr Offit with autism disorders.

Unlike Dr. Offit I am not an internationally known expert on vaccines or any other medical topic. I have never visited a hospital and seen the effects of polio on children as Dr Offit has. I am just the humble father of a severely autistic 13 year old boy who has first hand knowledge of the realities of severe autism and the impact it can have on a child's life and prospects. I have been actively involved with local autism organizations and issues. And I have visited mental health facilities and witnessed first hand the realities of life for severely autistic persons living their adult lives in institutional care.

I was surprised to read in At risk: vaccines How a legal case could cripple one of modern medicine's greatest achievements, a 2007 Boston Globe guest editorial by vaccine patent holder Paul Offit, the following comment:

"although large quantities of mercury are clearly toxic to the brain, autism isn't a consequence of mercury poisoning; large, single-source mercury exposures in Minamata Bay and Iraq have caused seizures, mental retardation, and speech delay, but not autism"

Dr. Offit does not indicate what levels of mercury are NOT toxic to the brain but the startling aspect of Dr. Offit's comment is that he recognizes that mercury can cause seizures, mental retardation and speech delay but then declares that mercury can NOT cause autism?

Although not part of the express definition of autism both seizures and mental retardation
(cognitive deficits, intellectual deficits or whatever the euphemism treadmill is churning out these days to describe mental retardation), are often associated with Autistic Disorder.

Speech delay is in fact one of the definitional criteria for Autistic Disorder in the DSM:

qualitative impairments in communication as manifested by at least one of the following:
  1. delay in, or total lack of, the development of spoken language (not accompanied by an attempt to compensate through alternative modes of communication such as gesture or mime)
  2. in individuals with adequate speech, marked impairment in the ability to initiate or sustain a conversation with others
  3. stereotyped and repetitive use of language or idiosyncratic language
  4. lack of varied, spontaneous make-believe play or social imitative play appropriate to developmental level
As the parent of a 13 year old with Autistic Disorder, a child who is severely autistic, I would assume that a child with mental retardation, seizures and speech delay is probably autistic and would seek a professional diagnosis. I find it startling that Dr. Offit would mention these conditions as resulting from mercury exposure and not see any possible autism connection. He was either being disingenuous in not recognizing that these factors strongly suggest autism or he just does not know what autism is.

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