Autism is a spectrum of disorders caused by abnormal brain development that can lead to diminished social skills,
as well as unusual ways of learning and reactions to sensations. A spectrum disorder, meaning people with autism
can have a range of symptoms. Mildly affected, children develop life skills at an early age. Severely afflicted
children may be unable to function in almost any setting.
As many as six in 1,000 children are ultimately diagnosed with autism to some degree, according to the Autism
Society of America. The number of school-age children getting treatment soared by 600 percent, in recent years.
Autism cases are on the rise nationwide, experts say the disorder affects as many as one in 166 children. Autism
is the fastest growing population of special -needs students in the US, according to data from the United States
Department of Education.
The number of diagnoses seems to be increasing, but some argue this is simply because of a greater awareness of
the condition. They also claim that the rise in new cases may be attributed to increased screening, better
recognition, pediatricians diagnosing it more often, and schools being apprehensive in treatment. The prevalence,
number of children diagnosed with autism may have increased significantly in recent years, raising the question
of whether foreign factors might be involved. As well as the incidence, the cause is unclear. Many have
speculated that genetic causes, pollution, food additives, or childhood vaccinations may play roles.
Autism was fully recognized in 1994 by all states as a behavioral classification for school children, who receive
individualized attention whatever their diagnosis. Children classified by school special education programs as
mentally retarded or learning disabled have declined, with the rise in autism cases between 1994 and 2003. Before
the 1980s, only one in 10,000 children was diagnosed as autistic. Two decades later it’s diagnosed one in every
175 American children. As many as 1.5 million Americans may have some form of autism, including milder
variants, and the number is rising. Research estimates the number of autistic children in the US could reach four
million in the next decade.
Toxins in Vaccines
Government health authorities have been trying to dispel widely publicized concerns that vaccines with mercury,
containing preservative thimerosal, which is no longer used, were behind an autism epidemic. There are concerns
that mercury might somehow be connected to the rise in the number of children diagnosed with autism. Mercury
is a known neuro-toxin and is found all around us, especially in pollution. The majority of children come across
mercury through childhood vaccines. There may be a subset of children that are more susceptible to mercury and
therefore react this way in terms of the autism spectrum. Some believe that autism can be effectively treated
through special diets, nutritional supplements, and removal of toxins.
In recent years, it has been suggested that thiomersal in childhood vaccines could contribute to or cause neuro-
developmental disorders in children such as autism, and other disorders within the Pervasive Developmental
Disorder (PDD) spectrum and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The basis for this claim is the
introduction of an organic mercury compound /wiki/Ethylmercurydirectly into the bloodstream of young children.
Some opponents of the use of thiomersal argue that this could have an effect on young children, who may have
undeveloped immune and neurological systems that would be affected in some way.
The Institute of Medicine, which looked at the link between autism and childhood vaccines, has found no "causal
relationship." The American Academy of Pediatrics and many scientists reject the link between vaccines and
autism and are concerned the debate over mercury will discourage parents from vaccinating their children. “I
think there's a real concern that there's been a change in our environment,” said president of the American
Academy of Pediatrics.
Research suggests that it is not the vaccines themselves but a mercury-based preservative called thiomersal, used
in some vaccine preparations, which may be a cause of autism. Scientist research into the possible side effects of
MMR found no association between MMR and autism. Several independent groups, including the National
Academy of Sciences, have also conducted investigations and concluded that the evidence does not support a link.
The CDC and some medical organizations continue to assert that no available evidence supports a causal link
between thiomersal and autism.
There is concern on both sides of the debate in regards to motivating factors. Those who condemn thimerosal
suspect that government agencies and pharmaceutical companies are denying a connection for fear of financial
liability and the creation of mistrust in vaccinations. Those who deny a connection between thimerosal and
neurological disorders have charged thimerosal's critics as medically and scientifically unqualified, emotionally
distraught, or interested in pursuing litigation. Others point out that if the mercury in vaccines was the culprit, the
rate of autism would have started to decline after 1999. That year, health authorities urged manufacturers to
remove thimerosal from all childhood vaccines except the flu shot in order to make sure parents vaccinate their
Duke University Medical Center researchers have found evidence of a genetic link between autism and several
chromosomomal anomalies. Researchers have identified seven chromosomal anomalies on six chromosomes in 12
children with autism. The findings indicate the anomalies might be associated with autism. The evidence for a
genetic basis for autism has been well established. To date, more than five possible specific regions of DNA, have
been identified that could potentially lead to an increased risk of autism. If so, they are significant because they
could help researchers identify genes involved in causing autism.
Chromosome anomalies can occur by chance and may be unrelated to autism. Researchers now have to sort out
which anomalies are due to chance and which ones are involved in causing autism. Genetics will help in finding
the root cause of autism. If the fundamental cause is found, it will help target possible therapies and keys to
prevention. Scientists are closing in on the handful of genes linked to autism, by eliminating those not connected
with the condition. They hope that within two years, their efforts will identify most of the genetic "faults" which
contribute to its development. Evidence insinuates that there are at least four, and perhaps as many as 10 genes
which play a role in autism. Autism is an umbrella term for a large number of similar "developmental disorders.”
Finding the genes, while important, is only the first step toward finding ways to help autistic children, and their
parents. It is likely that other things have a mien on the development of the condition, as yet unidentified
"environmental" factors which may help trigger the decline, or how severe the autism is in any child. However,
once the genes have been identified, scientists can continue to unravel these mysterious connections, devise
screening tests for children, and perhaps even treatments which could prevent autism, or even reverse it in
affected children. They are calling for increased research into environmental factors that might cause or
contribute to autism, increased research into therapies and possible cures to treat autism, and greater funding of
programs to help autistic people learn to live with their disorder.
Range of Outcomes
Children who are diagnosed with autism face a wide range of outcomes. Some are reported to have learned
speech and/or writing, self-care, and social skills on their own. Others experience miraculous recoveries and begin
conducting in a way that is identical to the way typical children behave, either for no apparent reason or from a
few simple alterations in diet. Some become mainstreamed after years of hard work and intensive training. Some
develop slowly, but never lose their diagnoses. Some stay at a level society perceives as low functioning, yet
others are fairly typical during childhood and report becoming "more autistic" in adulthood.
While some people see early intervention as crucial for autism, the prognosis is also uncertain the younger the
child. A diagnostic development path may be confused with a more severe disorder, and the child may progress
on his/her own. Research indicates that the human mind and nervous system remain susceptible for longer than
originally thought, and people with autism, like those with learning disabilities, have been known to cognitively
develop throughout their lives. There is a broad consensus in the medical community to the effect that autistic
behaviors can be improved through training and through medical or educational interventions, though there are
apparently no agreements on treatment regimes and objectives.