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About Joan Swirsky
Joan Swirsky, is a Featured Writer for The New Media Journal. A New York-based author and journalist, she was formerly a longtime health-and-science and feature writer for The New York Times Long Island section. She is the recipient of seven Long Island Press Awards. http://www.joanswirsky.com/articles.htm
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Looking for Answers to the Autism
Epidemic in All the Wrong Places

Joan Swirsky
April 5, 2014
Just last week, on March 24, 2014, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta (CDC) released its latest data on autism. After surveying medical and school records from 11 states, the CDC found that autism has more than doubled since the new century began only 14 years ago. Today the condition affects one out of 68 children – five times as many boys as girls. Alarmingly, there was a 30 percent climb in its incidence between 2008 and 2010.

Maybe you missed the story, since the day it broke, and the following day, the media – TV, radio, print – devoted about 30 seconds and just a few articles to this horrific report, significantly less time than is still spent endlessly speculating on Flight 370 or debating the use of the word "bossy," both of which pale in comparison to the marathon of unendurable daily ads for Cialis and Viagra! Exhibit Number One in America's priority system!

The powers-that-be at the CDC once again trotted out the age-old rationales to explain this bizarre finding:

▪ Greater awareness and therefore earlier and more accurate diagnoses

▪ The role that being an older parent plays not only in the incidence of autism but also Down syndrome and other developmental disabilities

▪ Genes

▪ "Something" in the environment

The study found that the incidence of autism in blacks "continues to lag behind whites and Hispanics," which some experts attributed to racial bias (i.e., blacks lack equal access to medical care), but other experts said that blacks may simply be less vulnerable to autism for some unknown reason.

What is consistently omitted, however, is the role that ultrasound exams during pregnancy may and probably do play not only in this seeming black/white disparity, but in the rapidly-escalating incidence of the condition. More about that below.

What We Know Today
Autism is a neurological disorder that affects the normal development of the brain, causing self-defeating behaviors and an inability to form social relationships. It usually appears before the age of three. Most scientists believe that autism is strongly influenced by genetics but allow that environmental factors may also play a role.

To be diagnosed on the autistic spectrum, a child must have deficits in three areas:

1.Communication (most children can't make eye contact; others can't speak)

2.Social skills (typified by disinterest in both people and surroundings)

3.Typically "normal" behavior (many autistic children have tics, repetitive behavior, inappropriate affects, et al)

Those diagnosed on the autistic spectrum range from high-functioning, self-sufficient people, even geniuses, to those who need lifelong supportive help.

Newsday reporter Delthia Ricks interviewed Coleen Boyle, the Director of the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities (a division of the CDC), who said that "8-year-olds [were chosen for the study] because, by that age, everyone with an autism-spectrum disorder usually will have been diagnosed."

According to NY Times writer Benedict Carey, the study revealed "a huge range in autism prevalence... from one child in 175 found with autism in Alabama, to one in 46 in New Jersey."

Other sites in the study, Carey reported, were in Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Maryland, Missouri, North Carolina, Utah and Wisconsin.

After the CDC announced the horrifying results of its study, several members of Congress and advocacy groups called for more funding for research and support services.

A Largely-Debunked Theory

The increased incidence of autism has been attributed by legions of parents and a number of professionals to the mercury-containing preservative thimerosol, used to prevent bacterial or fungal contamination in the vaccines babies and children routinely receive.

This is not backed up by hard science.

Thimerosol, which has been used in vaccines since the 1930s, has not been used in the US since 2001 and the vaccine dosages containing the preservative that were given before then had about the same amount of mercury found in an infant's daily supply of breast milk.

Numerous studies – by the Centers for Disease Control, the Institute of Medicine, American Academy of Pediatrics, the World Health Organization, and the National Academy of Sciences, among others – have found no autism-vaccine link, while other studies have shown an increase in autism in countries that have removed thimerosal from vaccines.

Nevertheless, aided by salivating personal-injury lawyers, parents have filed thousands of lawsuits claiming that thimerosol "caused" their children's autism. Between late 1999 and late 2002, mercury was removed from most childhood vaccines, including DPT (Diphtheria, Tetanus, Pertussis), Hepatitis B, and Hib [Haemophilus influenza b]. The MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella), which is a live vaccine, is not compatible with thimerosal.

Also abetting the quack science are figures like Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., who wrote an article, "Deadly Immunity," for Rolling Stone magazine, which was reprinted in Salon.com. But Salon ended up removing the article from its website because of the scorn it received from the scientific community. Kennedy's articles were "rife with factual errors and distortions," wrote Robert V. Fineberg, M.D, president of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies.

What appears significant, however, is the degree to which diagnoses of mental retardation and learning disabilities throughout the country have decreased at the same time as diagnoses of autism have risen, as reported in a May 2006 issue of Behavioral Pediatrics. Some experts theorize that "diagnostic substitution" may explain this phenomenon. Diagnostic Substitution means that children who were diagnosed with other conditions – including ADHD and learning disabilities – are now diagnosed with autism.

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