Monday, January 25, 2010

Autism Rising? Dr. Eric Fombonne Says Yes It Is

Despite the recent figures from the CDC revising autism prevalence rates upward from 1 in 150 to 1 in 110 die hard deniers of the existence of an autism epidemic refuse to acknowledge the obvious.  One of the most stubborn deniers is Kev Leitch at LBRB a Neurodiversity driven "autism" blog. 

In a recent lbrb post  denying the reality of the increasing rates of autism disorders Kev clings to the 1994 diagnostic changes and to social and ascertainment factors.  He does so even though Dr. Tom Insel, head of the IACC, has recently stated that studies can only attribute slightly less than 50% of the startling rates of increases to such diagnostic and ascertainment factors. The onus, according to Dr. Insel, is on those who would deny that autism is actually increasing to make their case.

Kev's diagnostic and ascertainment factors accounting for less than 50% of the autism increases what is left? Well Kev drops a few names without much explanation.  One of the names he drops, somewhat curiously is Dr. Eric Fombonne.   What makes Kev's reference to Dr. Fombonne so curious is that the good Doctor has previously indicated that autism actually is rising and quite dramatically.  He did so in the context of "debunking" claims that the mercury based preservative thimerosal used in vaccines (including recently in the H1N1 vaccines) does not cause autism disorders (as reported by Scripp news) :

"One of the main pieces of evidence against the vaccine theory, Minshew said, is that thimerosal has been banned from most childhood vaccines in America since 2001, and yet reported autism rates have continued to increase.Dr. Eric Fombonne, an autism researcher at McGill University in Montreal, has an even more telling example of that. In Quebec, children who got vaccines from 1987 to 1991 had about half as much mercury exposure as those in the United States; from 1992 to 1995, they had the same amount; and from 1996 on they had no exposure at all because mercury preservatives were removed. Yet the autism rates in Quebec increased steadily through that entire period, and actually went up faster after the mercury was eliminated."

I do not know if Dr. Fombonne is correct in stating that mercury was removed from all Quebec vaccines or not.  What is relevant for Kev's argument  who cites Dr. Fombonne as an authority for the view that autism is not really rising is the fact that well ... Dr. Fombonne has argued exactly the opposite in trying to prove that mercury based thimerosal in children's vaccines has been exonerated as a cause of autism disorders.   If the increase in autism diagnoses relied on by Dr. Fombonne in defending thimerosal was not a real increase, if it was due entirely to diagnostic and social factors, then Dr. Fombonne's thimerosal defence would be destroyed.

The factors cited by Kev Leitch and other autism epidemic deniers do not account for more than 50% of the autism epidemic. Name dropping of experts like Dr. Fombonne  does not change that fact. Especially when they themselves have publicly relied on real autism increases in arguing against thimerosal as a factor causing autism disorders.

Autism is rising and it is long past time that we started doing the research to find out why.

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Luna_the_cat said... No, Fombonne DOESN'T say that incidence is rising. You need to read what Fombonne has actually written, not a few quoted out-of-context sentences.

One of the more recent in-depth analyses of diagnostic numbers is . It takes a bit of reading, but largely says what I said on the other post. And in the conclusions section, you should note the sentence:

"Whilst it appears that prevalence estimates have gone up over time, this increase most likely represents changes in the concepts, definitions and awareness of autistic-spectrum disorders in both the lay and professional public."

Unknown said...


I have made placed the statement in context. With respect you do not appear to have considered the context carefully.

Dr. Fombonne is referenced as indicating that increases in autism in the Province of Quebec occurred after the alleged removal of vaccines in that province. He was offering that as proof that thimerosal did not cause autism since autism rose after the removal of thimerosal from the vaccines.

The only way that Fombonne's defence of thimerosal makes sense is if he was talking about REAL increases in autism disorders.

Unknown said...

Luna Dr. Fombonne can not have it both ways. If he wants to say that autism was not really increasing then he should abondon increased autism rates as an argument to show that thimerosal does not cause autism.

Which is it?

Anonymous said...

Where's the Doctor to address this point?

I'd love to see him have to defend himself.

Thanks for pointing out something that we all should have seen long ago.

Check mate Dr. F!!

J said...

Harold -
The answer to your "Fombonne Dilemma" is very simple:
Dr. Fombonne acknowledges in the quote that the rate of diagnosis is increasing. Without saying what IS causing the rate increase (he is quoted from elsewhere by Luna with one explanation), his specific research clearly shows what is NOT causing the rate increase.

Anonymous said...

The gradual reduction of Thimerosal in routine childhood vaccines was synchronized with an increase in Thimerosal-containing influenza vaccines for infants, toddlers and pregnant women. Injected mercury bypasses defenses and binds preferentially with proteins and lipids... and fetuses.

Unknown said...

Steve D

Like Luna you miss the point.

Dr. Fombonne used the increading autism rates do demonstrate that thimerosal did not cause autism because autism rates rose in Quebec after thimerosal was allegedly removed from vaccines.

That argument is only valid IF the autism rates were actually increasing.

Therefore Fombonne in the example cited had to mean that autism rates were actually rising.

deBeauxOs said...


I left a comment yesterday in the form of a question. It must have been mistaken for spam.

Do you know of any research that is studying the connection between the rise in autism in children and the corresponding increased use of fetal ultrasound? I am developing a blogpost and would like it to be respectful and based on scientific information.

Grand merci.

Minority said...

I've been running around pointing out this oddity for a couple of years. The same people who argue that autism is not rising, will point to increases in autism to "prove" that vaccines have nothing to do with it.

Have your cake and eat it too?

Thanks for a well-put together article!

Ian MacGregor said...

Please see

Epidemiology of pervasive developmental disorders. Paediatric Research, 65, 591–598.

For Dr, Fombonne's view on the autism epidemic. Yes the incident is rising, but he is firmly on the side which says that the rise is due to factors of expanded diagnosis, greater familiarity etc. The paper is quite recent

Unknown said...

Ian I understand that Dr. Fombonne has elsewhere that diagnostic change etc explain the dramatic increases in autism.

My point in this comment is that he didn't do that when claiming that rising autism rates after thimerosal was allegedly removed from vaccines disproved any connection between thimerosal and autism.

If there is no actual rise in autism, as Dr. Fombonne has argued elsewhere then increasing autism rates after thimerosal removal would be irrelevant if the increase is not real.