Last week the CDC issued a report indicating that in 2008, the latest year for which study was available, 1 in 88 6-year-old American children have some sort of autism spectrum disorder. That number is up from 1 in 150 in 2002 and 1 in 110 in 2006. For boys, the figures are worse, with 1 in 54 affected in 2008 (almost 2% !!). A summary of the report is here.
Autism Speaks, the National Autism Association, and many other advocacy groups were quick to point out that this is just one of a continuing series of alarms that autism spectrum disorders are becoming more prevalent and that government funding for research is not keeping pace. Testimony to Congress from Peter Bell, executive vice president of programs and services for Autism Speaks, can be found here. Comments from National Autism Association Executive Director Lori McIlwaine can be found here.
There is some debate as to the methodology used in the report (14 districts nationwide were used as representative samples), and whether the numbers truly reflect the rate of increasing autism or also include more awareness and more agressive diagnosis of ASDs. While I do not discount the possibility that some of the increase may be due to exogenous factors, I personally believe that the report confirms what we all know, that the rate of autism is rising at an alarming rate and, in the words of CDC Director Thomas Frieden, “One thing the data tells us with certainty – there are many children and families who need help,”
I believe that funding needs to continue to be directed toward finding the cause of autism, which we do not yet know. We know there are some genetic links, and the latest research indicates that environmental factors, particularly toxins in the environment, most likely play a role. From my own experience in talking to hundreds of parents, it is striking and a bit eerie to see how similar the physical profile is of kids on the spectrum: digestive problems, immunological problems, elevated bad metals (mercury, lead), low level of good metals (magnesium, zinc), and a regression from normal development at the same time in life.
Further, I think funding should go towards education of teachers, doctors, therapists, and parents, each of whom comes in contact with dozens or hundreds of children each year that are afflicted with ASD disorders. Many of these people are still operating under the belief that autism is a disorder of and in the brain. In my experience, and from the latest research, it seems most probable that autism develops from a series of insults from our environment: toxins in the air we breathe, water we drink, and food we eat, infections and antibiotics and, yes, even vaccines, that, at some point, tip the fragile biochemistry of a young child over the edge, manifesting itself in the behaviors that we call autism.
It scares me to think of the number of professionals that come in contact with many children each year that are unaware of the most basic signs of developing autism, nor are capable of giving advice for non-invasive treatment (diet and biochemical intervention) that has shown, in hundreds of cases, to augment traditional therapies to achieve more successful results and, in many cases, full recovery from autism.