Skip to main content

What's Up Magazine

The Autism Puzzle

Jan 11, 2011 01:16AM ● By Anonymous


The controversial mercury-based preservative thimerosal, once used in the measles/mumps/rubella (MMR) vaccine, has been closely scrutinized as a cause of autism. Many parents trace the onset of autism symptoms in their children directly to the timing of vaccinations. However, thimerosal was removed from routine childhood vaccines in 2001. Had it been a factor in the development of autism, the number of cases should have dropped starting in 2004. The number of autism diagnoses has, in fact, risen.

According to the CDC, symptoms of ASD begin before the age of three and last throughout a person’s lifetime, although symptoms may improve over time. Some children show hints of problems within the first few months of life, others at 24 months of age or later. Some children with ASD seem to develop normally until around 18 to 24 months and then stop gaining new skills or lose the skills they once had. A child with ASD may:

There are different levels and severity of symptoms of ASD. This has lead researchers to conclude that there may be multiple causes as well. The prevailing theories involve genetics and undetermined environmental factors (possibly a combination of the two)…and even the timing of the exposure (before, during, or after birth) to those environmental factors. Other studies have examined the use of food additives, infants who watch too much TV, prenatal ultrasounds, certain types of infection, immune system reactions, and even yeast infections.

A 2006 study conducted by Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York and the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London examined data collected on 132,271 children born in Israel during the 1980s. They were all assessed by the draft board at age 17, when any disorders were recorded. Among those whose fathers were between the ages of 15 and 29 when the children were born, the rate of autism was six in 10,000 births; between 30 and 39, nine in 10,000. But the rate jumped to 32 in 10,000 for fathers between 40 and 49. The rates appeared to be even higher for those over age 50, but the sample was too small to be certain. The age of the mother did not appear to have any effect.

Dr. Leo Kanner, a pioneer in the field of child psychiatry and the former director of child psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University Hospital, first identified what he called “early infantile autism” in 1943. He erroneously believed that it was caused by cold, unloving mothers. We have since learned that ASD is a biological medical condition that cannot possibly be blamed on parenting.

Just as there is no single type of autism, there is no single treatment for it; but early intervention, gluten-free and casein-free diets, and highly structured behavioral programs using positive reinforcement, sensory input, and alternative communication techniques have proved beneficial.

A variety of alternative treatments are currently in use or being investigated. Anecdotal information suggests that a series of hyperbaric chamber therapy sessions may have a positive effect. Everything from biofeedback to stem cells to vitamin B-12 and chelation therapies is being examined. Not just scientists but families themselves are in on the search, hoping for a “Lorenzo’s Oil” discovery for their own children. That 1992 film traced the somewhat true story of parents who successfully fought for a treatment for their adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD)- stricken son. But that wasn’t autism, and olive oil isn’t the answer here.


Where to find and give support:

Pathfinders for Autism | 866-806-8400

The Anne Arundel Chapter of the Autism Society of America | 410-923-8800

The ARC of the Central Chesapeake Region in Annapolis | 410-268-8085

The National Autism Association of Maryland-Eastern Shore | 443-786-0680