An intriguing series of articles by Alan Zarembo was recently published in the L.A. Times discussing the massive autism epidemic that has ensued in the last 30 years. Zarembo tackled some thought provoking topics and has included some intriguing video clips.
The article points out that since the 1980’s the rates of autism have increased 20 times and now about 1% of children are diagnosed with autism. The article suggests that the increase is more related to increased diagnosis rather than a true increase in disease incidence. Zarembo correctly identifies that the diagnostic criteria has widened, which has expanded the pool of children who qualify for the diagnosis. Additionally, autism spectrum disorders are now much better known and understood, so it is much more likely that they will be correctly identified at an early age. Thus, he quotes Roy Richard Grinker, an anthropologist at George Washington University who has termed it an “epidemic of discovery”.
On the other hand, there are many researchers who suspect increasing environmental exposures are triggering the boom in incidence. I think the reality is probably a combination of both factors. Yes, the diagnostic criteria have widened and parents and doctors are much better able to recognize autism than 30 years ago. However, I don’t think that can be the only explanation of this massive upsurge in incidence. I think that like all diseases there is a combination of genetic susceptibility (nature) and environmental stressors (nurture) that combine in a susceptible person to cause the problems that lead to autism.
I think it’s important to arrive at an accurate diagnosis so that parents can get the services their children need to recover more quickly. We need to be careful not to be too loose with the diagnosis and incorrectly label children who are not autistic because that has inherent problems including emotional harm to the child and it is costly to the health care system.
Like many providers, my opinion is that the earlier the diagnosis, the better chance the child has at recovering, thanks to “early intervention”. The longer a child goes without treatment the more detrimental, because brains are more plastic when young and become more rigid as we age. Many who are skeptical of the upsurge in autism think we may be spending too much public funding and resources. I personally think this is selfish and short sighted. A child that gets treatment at an early age is much more likely to make significant strides and have the possibility of being an independent adult, thus being more affordable to the health care system and society as a whole. Additionally, I think we have an ethical responsibility to help these struggling kids get better. It’s easy to point a finger and say “I don’t believe it’s a real problem so I don’t want my tax dollars to be spent on services for other people’s kids”. However, that’s not a suitable answer for the thousands of parents who need help for their kids who are legitimately developmentally delayed, act distant, don’t share empathy and social reciprocity, have a lack eye contact, perhaps have repetitive or violent behaviors, and are not developing and thriving at a healthy rate.
There is currently no known cause of autism and my suspicion based on the research is that in the future we will actually realize that there are several subtypes of autism based on different medical etiologies. Some cases may be due to environmental exposures, some cases may be immune mediated, and some may have a completely different cause. Autism is too complex and variable to think that we will find a single identifiable silver bullet genetic or environmental cause. I think this is why there is fairly wide variability in treatment response rates to some therapies like ABA and biomedical therapies. Some kiddos have miraculous recoveries, yet others don’t respond at all.
The beauty of homeopathic treatment that we use to treat autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) at Arizona Natural Health Center is that homeopathy addresses each person’s innate individuality and susceptibility. In other words, homeopathy works by finding an individualized medicine that stimulates the child to be healthier so that they are less susceptible to the environmental stressors. We can’t change the fact that the world is a toxic place full of heavy metals, pesticides, and other pollutants. Some alternative therapies for autism like chelation try to address the environmental toxic exposure side of the disease equation. However, with homeopathy, we attempt to stimulate a child to be healthier from the inside-out. The ability to alter an individual’s susceptibility to be less reactive to environmental triggers is unique to homeopathy and is why I think it is such an important treatment for parents to have in their mix of therapies for their child’s recovery.
I hope you enjoy reading Zarembo’s series of articles that stimulate some controversial and thought provoking topics. I have placed links below to the article, videos and some excellent interactive autism information tools:
- Read Part One: An epidemic of disease or of discovery?
- Read Part Two: Warrior parents fare best in securing autism services
- Read Part Three: Families cling to hope of autism ‘recovery’
- Read Part Four: Finding traces of autism in earlier eras
- Autism Video Series: This links to a touching video series of stories of children and families affected by autism in Zarembo’s L.A. Times article.
- Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) Video
- Sidebar: Popular autism therapy (ABA) mixes warm praise, firm guidance
- Sidebar: Why Autism? There is no single answer
- Sidebar: Interactive Map of Autism Rates by State
- Sidebar: Interactive Checklist of Autism Symptoms: This links to a page that has an interactive checklist of symptoms that can help parents see how doctors arrive at the diagnoses of autistic disorder, Asperger’s disorder, and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS). The diagnosis is often a difficult judgment call.
- Sidebar: Interactive Autism-History Timeline
- Early Case of Autism: This links to the original case report of an early case of autism diagnosed in 1954 by Dr. Leo Kanner, the Johns Hopkins University psychiatrist credited with discovering autism. The patient’s parents followed Kanner’s advice to place Perrick in a mental institution. At the time, autism was not a widely recognized diagnosis.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Facts about Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs)