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Dan Olmsted: Age of Autism Index

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Friday, April 29, 2005

The Age of Autism: 'Absolutely different'


Her name was Virginia.

"Virginia S., born Sept. 13, 1931, has resided at a state training school for the feebleminded since 1936, with the exception of one month in 1938, when she was paroled to a school for the deaf for 'educational opportunity.'"

So wrote Leo Kanner, world-renowned child psychiatrist at The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. He went on to point out Virginia was neither feebleminded nor deaf. She was autistic.

Virginia was, in fact, the oldest of the 11 children in Kanner's 1943 paper, "Autistic Disturbances of Affective Contact," which first named "autism" as a distinct and devastating disorder. Kanner said autistic children differed "markedly and uniquely" from anyone ever described. They were "something new."

Virginia -- no last name or home state was given -- was referred to Kanner after Dr. Esther Richards saw her several times at the training school.

"Virginia stands out from other children," Richards wrote Kanner, "because she is absolutely different from any of the others." She did not talk. She did not play with other children. She did picture puzzles by the hour. "All findings seem to be in the nature of a congenital abnormality which looks as if it were more of a personality abnormality than an organic defect."

In 1955 Kanner revisited his first 42 cases. The oldest autistic person at that point was 24 -- born in 1931 and presumably Virginia S.

Across the Atlantic, something remarkably similar was happening almost simultaneously.

A Viennese pediatrician named Hans Asperger also was identifying children he called autistic, though in a slightly milder form that came to be known as Asperger's Disorder. Of his four case studies, only one, Fritz V., is given a birth year: 1933. Two of the other children also appear to have been born in the 1930s, given their age when Asperger met them.

The fourth, Hellmuth L., was first seen "six years ago, at age 11," Asperger wrote in his 1944 paper. That means he was born around 1927, but Hellmuth is interesting for another reason: His case study appears to be the only one described by Kanner or Asperger whose autism clearly was due to organic causes.

"He had severe asphyxia (lack of oxygen) at birth and was resuscitated at length. Soon after birth he had convulsions. ... In Hellmuth's case there were clear indications that his autism was due to brain injury at birth."

Many autistic children are characterized as looking angelic. Hellmuth was "grotesque," Asperger said, perhaps because of his brain damage.

Asperger drew a "preliminary conclusion" that some organic problems create symptoms "closely similar to the picture presented by 'autistic personality disorder' of constitutional origin." That has been proven correct.

So, the only case study, by either Kanner or Asperger, of an autistic child clearly born before 1931, had a different cause: brain damage.

Here is the question: How many people born before 1931 fit the profile, not of Hellmuth but Virginia -- nothing apparently wrong with them except this bizarre and baffling set of behaviors?

That might sound arcane, but it is crucial: When and where classic "Kanner autism" began is key to tracking its roots and rise. That is the focus of this series.

Some experts on autism say many such people have been documented before the 1930s. One of the most-cited instances of apparent autism -- some say the first -- was Victor, the Wild Boy of Aveyron, who was discovered living in the woods in France in the late 1700s -- and who is profiled at feralchildren.com.

"There can be no doubt that Victor was autistic and fitted into Kanner's syndrome," wrote British psychiatrist Lorna Wing.

Other early possibilities were outlined in an intriguing e-mail message I received after the last article, from longtime autism researcher, Dr. Darold A. Treffert.

"You raise the question whether Kanner and Asperger were seeing a 'new disorder,' or were they simply very keen observers who, for the first time, provided a classic description of an until-then-unrecognized but existing disorder? I think the latter," Treffert wrote.

"In fact I think autistic disorder was part of Dr. J. Langdon Down's original 10 cases of what he called (regrettably) 'idiot savant,' now known as savant syndrome. The movie 'Rain Man' made autistic savants household terms."

Treffert is past president of the Wisconsin Medical Society and a psychiatrist at St. Agnes Hospital in Fond du Lac. He wrote the book "Extraordinary People: Understanding the Savant Syndrome." He directed me to a Web site about the phenomenon: savantsyndrome.com. There, his discussion of Down's cases reveals striking similarities to modern autism.

Down, best-known for having described Down syndrome, gave a lecture in 1887 to the London Medical Society, in which he described 10 patients as having remarkable gifts -- far too remarkable to consider them retarded -- but also "living in a world of their own." One boy "(referred) to himself in the third person," "lost speech," "self-contained and self-absorbed, caring not to be entertained other than (in) his own dream-land, and automatic and rhythmical movements."

"Those descriptions are so applicable to what we now call Autistic Disorder. ... Autism is not a new disorder," the summary concluded.

Nor is it increasing, according to what might be called the "steady state" theory of the autism universe. It was always thus, just not diagnosed. Those who believe instead in the "big bang" -- an initial explosion of autism in the 1930s that has been expanding ever since -- argue that scattered cases before then actually make their point.

The pre-1930s cases were few and far between, goes this argument, and might have resulted from organic triggers such as Hellmuth L.'s brain damage or congenital defects such as Fragile X Syndrome, which causes a small percentage of today's autism cases.

Or, even measles might be responsible. There is an early account of a child who, after getting measles, changed markedly and developed repetitive speech and other autistic behaviors. Measles is a known culprit in other cases. Some women who contract German measles while pregnant give birth to children with Congenital Rubella Syndrome and a significant percentage of those children are autistic.

When Wing said, "the history of autistic disorders stretches far back into the mists of time, long before Kanner's and Asperger's insights," it is unclear how well we can see through those mists. More pertinent, perhaps, would be knowing the number of Americans with autism who were alive on Sept. 12, 1931, the day before Virginia S. was born.

Today's autism rate is 30 to 40 out of every 10,000 children, according to several studies, including one in 2003 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Applying that rate to the U.S. population of 123 million in 1931 would mean at least 369,000 people were autistic.

That is an awful lot of people, but it is the number resulting from the steady state theory of autism. Cut that number by one or two orders of magnitude, just for the sake of argument, and you face the same issue.

Of course, in 1931 none of those people would have been diagnosed with "autistic disorder," but would not some percentage of those 369,000 -- the infants, children, teens and adults of 1931 -- ultimately have been called autistic instead of deaf, or feebleminded, or schizophrenic, or whatever they were originally labeled?

Like Virginia, they already stood out because they were "absolutely different from any of the others," and by 1943 Leo Kanner had defined their disorder and given it a name.

Something doesn't add up.


Next: "These children had never been there."


This article is the second of seven in a series UPI published earlier this year.


The Age of Autism aims to be interactive with readers and will take heed of comment, criticism and suggestions. E-mail: dolmsted@upi.com

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The Age of Autism: Donald T. and Fritz V.


Baltimore, MD, Apr. 29 (UPI) -- They were born within four months of each other, Fritz V. in June of 1933 and Donald T. that September. Fritz was born in Austria, Donald in Mississippi, but they had a surprising amount in common.


When Donald was taken by his beleaguered parents to Johns Hopkins University in 1938, he acted like no 5-year-old that famed child psychiatrist Leo Kanner had ever seen.

"He learned my name," Kanner recounted decades later, "but he would never see me if he met me because he would never look up enough and had enough eye contact to recognize faces. ... Also, while he spoke, it was not for communication, and if in order to satisfy his needs some communication was needed, he would not be able to distinguish between 'I' and 'you,' rather echoing religiously some of the things that he was interested in.

"For instance, if he wanted his milk, he remembered constantly that his mother always asked him, 'Donnie, do you want your milk?' And his way of asking for milk was 'Donnie, do you want your milk?' Well, this was only a part of some of his peculiar behavior."

Yet, strangely, by age 2 1/2 he could name the presidents and vice presidents of the United States backwards and forwards and recite the 25 questions of the Presbyterian catechism.

Fritz made an equally vivid impression on Hans Asperger, the pediatrician who first saw him in 1939 at age 6 in Vienna. Asperger described him as "a highly unusual boy who shows a very severe impairment in social integration. ... His gaze was strikingly odd. It was generally directed into the void."

In school, "He quickly became aggressive and lashed out with anything he could get hold of (once with a hammer). ... Because of his totally uninhibited behavior, his schooling failed on the first day. ... Another strange phenomenon in this boy was the occurrence of certain stereotypic movements and habits."

As with Donald, "The content of his speech was completely different from what one would expect of a normal child," Asperger said of Fritz. "Only rarely was what he said in answer to a question."

Weird, but he started speaking at 10 months and soon "talked like an adult."

Donald T. and Fritz V. -- their last names were never given -- have endured in medical literature because they are firsts. Donald was the first to confront Kanner with the behaviors that he later named "autism." Fritz was the first case study of what came to be known as Asperger's Disorder. Both conditions are now classed in the official U.S. guide to mental problems as Pervasive Developmental Disorders, and are also called Autism Spectrum Disorders.

Autism derives from the Greek word for self, "autos," as in autobiography.

Most experts think the disorders are related, with autism the severe manifestation; Asperger's is sometimes referred to as "autism lite" or "a dash of autism" and is differentiated by a lack of delay in language development.

Kanner's study of Donald and 10 other children was titled "Autistic Disturbances of Affective Contact," and was published in the journal "Nervous Child" in 1943. Asperger called his study of Fritz and three other children "'Autistic Psychopathy' in Childhood;" it was published in the "Archiv fur Psychiatrie und Nervenkrankheiten" in 1944.

Kanner described autism's defining features as "extreme aloneness and a desire for the preservation of sameness."

"The children seemed to live in a static world in which they could not seem to tolerate any kind of change introduced by anybody but themselves," Kanner said in a 1972 speech, "and even that didn't occur very often."

"The autist is only himself," Asperger wrote, "and is not an active member of a greater organism which he is influenced by and which he influences constantly."

Kanner and Asperger did not collaborate on their studies. Nor did either predict the deluge that would follow: In the United States, a reasonable estimate is 30 or 40 children out of every 10,000 are diagnosed with autism, and another 30 or 40 are diagnosed with other Pervasive Developmental Disorders, including Asperger's.

This leads to a simple but significant question: Was it coincidence the first few cases of these strikingly similar disorders were identified at the same time, by the same term, in children born the same decade, by doctors thousands of miles apart?

Or, is it a clue to when and where autism started -- and why?

The question reflects a huge, and hugely important, debate. If autistic children always existed in the same percentages but just were not formally classified until the 1940s, that would suggest better diagnosis, not a troubling increase in the number of autistic children.

If, however, autism had a clear beginning in the fairly recent past (a past so recent that Fritz and Donald could both be alive today at age 71), then the issue is very different. That would suggest something new caused those first autism and Asperger's cases in the early 1930s; something caused them to increase, and something is still causing them today.

This ongoing series will look for answers by tracking the natural history of autism around the world -- a road less traveled than one might think. For example, Asperger's study was not translated into English until 1994 -- a half-century later -- and still is not easily available. Actually reading Asperger's account of Fritz V. makes you realize the severity of his disorder and its similarity to classical autism.

"The reader of Asperger's first paper cannot fail to be impressed by the close similarities to Kanner's case descriptions and the relatively few differences," wrote British psychiatrist Lorna Wing in the 1994 anthology "Autism and Asperger Syndrome," which includes the first English translation. Translator Uta Frith noted, "By a remarkable coincidence, Asperger and Kanner independently described exactly the same type of disturbed child to whom nobody had paid much attention before and both used the label autistic."

Both said autistic children were impossible to miss.

"Once one has properly diagnosed an autistic individual one can spot such children instantly," Asperger said.

"It is a unique syndrome," Kanner said, "and almost photographically not identical, but similar."

Kanner was clear he never saw an autistic child until he met Donald T. in 1938 -- 17 years after he got his medical degree in Berlin, on his way to becoming one of the world's leading psychiatrists, to whom the toughest cases were often referred "all the way to the great Hopkins," as he jokingly put it.

In fact, his landmark 1943 paper begins, "Since 1938, there have come to our attention a number of children whose condition differs so markedly and uniquely from anything reported so far, that each case merits -- and, I hope, will eventually receive -- a detailed consideration of its fascinating peculiarities."

Markedly, uniquely different: The great psychiatrist at the great Hopkins was convinced he was seeing something new.

Next, a look at the oldest of Kanner's patients, the one whose birth might mark the start of the age of autism. Her name was Virginia S.


This article is one of seven in a series UPI published earlier this year.


The Age of Autism aims to be interactive with readers and will take heed of comment, criticism and suggestions. E-mail: dolmsted@upi.com

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Thursday, April 28, 2005

The Age of Autism: A new approach


Washington, DC, Apr. 28 (UPI) -- Part 2 of 2. Dr. Elizabeth Mumper, a pediatrician in Lynchburg, Va., is concerned that the increasing number of childhood vaccinations in the 1990s may have triggered a huge increase in autism and other developmental disorders. This article looks at treatment strategies she and others are trying based on that view.

Mumper has just been named top adviser on autism treatment for Defeat Autism Now! (DAN!) and is medical director of their physician training lecture series. Mumper graduated from the Medical College of Virginia and completed her residency at the University of Virginia.

This weekend, at a conference in Charlottesville, she and other doctors and scientists who advocate this approach will outline their strategies for treating autism as a biomedical disorder.

Mainstream medical and scientific groups say autism is primarily a genetic disorder and there is no link between vaccines and autism or other mental or physical problems.

Q. Give us a sense of your overall philosophy in treating autistic children.

A. The basic premise of our treatment strategy is to tailor our treatments to the unique constellation of the child's problems, as determined by history, careful physical exam and targeted laboratory evaluations. Certain treatments are helpful to some children, but would not be expected to help other autistic children with different problems.

Many autistic patients have significant gastrointestinal pathology, which can be well characterized by endoscopy and pathology. Standard treatments targeted at their esophagitis, gastritis or inflammatory bowel disease often lead to improvements in self-abusive behaviors such as head banging, which we believe are frequently signs of physical pain in children who cannot communicate their distress.

Many patients who have major sleep problems begin sleeping through the night when their erosive esophagitis is treated with classic medications.

Many patients who had unexplained crying or sudden meltdowns become calmer when their inflammatory bowel disease is treated with standard anti-inflammatory medications.

Q. What about the neurological problems that are clearly a central feature of autism?

A. Many autistic children demonstrate abnormalities in methylation pathways. Methylation is the biochemical process of adding a carbon (atom) and 3 hydrogens, and is crucial for the formation of new DNA, the synthesis of neurotransmitters and the creation of phospholipid cellular membranes.

Careful study of the individual child's cellular biochemistry can lead to treatments with methylcobalamin and folinic acid, which have been demonstrated to correct deficiencies in reduced glutathione, which is the major intracellular anti-oxidant.

Glutathione also has vital roles in immune function, gut structure and detoxification. Correcting this biochemistry makes the child healthier and often improves language acquisition and socialization.

Q. You believe that part of what's going on here is that some children have a genetic or metabolic deficiency in methylation and glutathione pathways that make it harder to excrete heavy metals -- like the mercury that was used as a preservative in many childhood vaccines through the 1990s. How does that figure in to your treatment plan?

A. Many children in the autism spectrum have problems with sulfation pathways and detoxification systems. Therapeutic strategies aimed at enhancing the body's mechanisms for eliminating environmental toxins are associated with a decrease in so-called autistic behaviors in some children.

Our patients frequently have evidence of significant oxidative stress, which can be treated effectively with relatively simple therapies, such as vitamins A, C, and E and selenium.

Q. How many patients have you treated this way in your practice?

A. We estimate that there are about 800 patients with neurodevelopmental disabilities in our practice who have been treated with some combination of biomedical treatments. We try to look for underlying medical problems that are amenable to treatment, so that the child will be healthier and more attentive for (his or her) educational and behavioral therapies. We believe strongly in working as a team with educators and therapists.

Q. How well is this working, in your opinion?

A. There are some patients that we have not really helped much, despite our best efforts. There are other patients whose parents describe extraordinary improvements in language, behavior and socialization. Sometimes it is as if a light bulb has been turned on.

One of the most gratifying moments of my career was when a 6-year-old non-verbal girl said "Mama" for the first time several months after we began working on correcting her biochemical abnormalities. I will never forget the look on that mother's face when she thanked me. Of course, I cannot prove she would not have spontaneously said "Mama" in the absence of our interventions.

Another gratifying moment came when a 15-year-old boy, who had not slept through the night for four years, began sleeping all night within one week of having his erosive esophagitis identified by endoscopy and treated with standard medications. He must have been in agony. His mother had been chronically exhausted.

He is nonverbal, but just this morning typed to me on his Alpha Smart (portable word processor) in complete sentences how much better he has felt since he started coming to our practice.

Q. The counter-argument to this is that some autistic children improve anyway; that their disorders might not have been as severe as originally believed, or that behavioral treatments going on at the same time really made the difference. How do you respond to that?

A. We are very aware of the potential for bias in detecting improvements -- or the lack thereof -- when parents or healthcare providers are the only ones assessing the child.

We try to keep teachers, therapists and second-degree relatives "blinded" to the fact that biomedical interventions are being added. We ask the parents to record any spontaneous comments that are made, and frequently get comments that suggest significant improvements in language or behavior over baseline.

We also compare the developmental trajectory at baseline and after biomedical interventions. For example, a child in speech therapy may have made four months' worth of progress in 18 months prior to our interventions, then 10 months of progress in the three months after our treatments, which suggests -- but does not prove -- effectiveness.

This morning I saw a 3-year-old patient with autism who started on methylcobalamin and folinic acid 12 weeks ago. At baseline he had about 50 words. He added 100 new words the first six weeks and 50 more words the next six weeks. That seems to be a significant improvement over baseline and is documented with a specific list of words recorded by his therapist.

There is a 140-question assessment tool we use to evaluate the effects of our methylcobalamin and folinic acid regimen. It utilizes data from observers blinded to the intervention. The MIND Institute at the University of California at Davis is carrying out a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of the protocol, which will utilize sophisticated psychological and educational testing before and after.

I am working with some colleagues who are carrying out multiple-blinded behavioral and educational assessments at baseline and after biomedical interventions, such that each child establishes his or her own developmental trajectory and changes can be tracked by therapists unaware of the medical interventions.

Q. What do your fellow pediatricians think of all this?

A. Most of my pediatric colleagues have accepted the conclusions of the IOM and honestly think the case is closed on the issue of the vaccine-autism link. (An Institute of Medicine panel concluded last year the epidemiology favors rejecting any link between autism and the mercury in vaccines or the vaccines themselves.)

I am concerned that some of my colleagues think I have lost my mind.

Q. So, what are you basing your theories on?

A. My conclusions about the science implicating vaccines came after reading over 50 books, including some very technical ones about neuropsychopharmacology, biochemistry and immunology.

My interest in these subjects was piqued when I was asked to write a book chapter about developmental pediatrics, which includes autism and ADHD, and another chapter about allergy and immunology. Since then, I have read hundreds of articles in peer-reviewed scientific literature about those topics.

I have a paradigm in my mind where much of the science fits together in ways that make the vaccine-autism link quite plausible -- although clearly not the only factor in autism.

My husband, Mike, is a psychiatrist. He has a theory that pediatricians are, as a group, such nice people committed to helping children that the thought that we may have unintentionally harmed a generation of children is too painful to face.


This ongoing series on the roots and rise of autism aims to be interactive with readers and will take note of comment, criticism and suggestions. E-mail: dolmsted@upi.com
Copyright 2005 by United Press International. All Rights Reserved.

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Tuesday, April 26, 2005

The Age of Autism: Sick children


WASHINGTON, April 26 (UPI) -- Part 1 of 2. Dr. Elizabeth Mumper is an unlikely contrarian. Mumper is a pediatrician in the southern Virginia city of Lynchburg, best known as the home of the Rev. Jerry Falwell's Liberty Baptist University.

She graduated from the University of Virginia Medical School, where she was chief resident and today is associate professor of clinical pediatrics.

About a decade ago, Mumper said, she began noticing a change for the worse in the overall health of the children she was seeing, including a startling rise in cases of autism. Ultimately, Mumper came to suspect the increasing number of childhood vaccinations in the 1990s -- and particularly the mercury-based preservative called thimerosal in many of those vaccines -- was a big reason.

The federal government recommended phasing out thimerosal in childhood vaccines in 1999 as a precautionary measure, but health officials said the epidemiological evidence favored rejection of thimerosal, or any vaccine link, as a culprit.

Last week, Mumper was appointed medical director of the Autism Research Institute in San Diego, a group that suspects mercury -- and possibly some vaccines themselves -- are implicated in an alarming increase in childhood disorders. This weekend, she and several like-minded colleagues will outline their approach at a conference in Charlottesville, Va.

This first of two articles is the transcript of a United Press International interview with Mumper.

Q. What got you going on this line of thinking? As you know, mainstream medical groups, including the American Association of Pediatrics, have firmly rejected the idea that vaccines played any role in autism or other disorders. They also say that continuing to push this idea is dangerous -- not to mention a waste of money -- because parents might stop vaccinating their children. Many also believe there is no real increase in these disorders, just more diagnoses.

A. In the mid-1990s, I had a general intuitive sense, as a clinician who's walked into rooms with thousands of patients at this point, that children were sicker.

When I asked myself what I was seeing, I realized I was seeing more development problems; I was seeing more stuttering; I was seeing more speech and language issues; I was seeing more autism; I was seeing lots more ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder); I was seeing more asthma, more eczema -- all those sort of auto-immune allergic conditions.

I started having more diabetic patients. In this very small practice -- I've only got 1,700 patients -- I've got four insulin-dependent diabetics, and they're younger, diagnosed as young as 16 months old. The incidence of diabetes used to be something like one in 2,000 kids 15 years ago.

So, for me as a clinician, we shouldn't get hung up on questions like, "Is this really autism?" or "Is it Asperger's (a milder variation)?" or have we broadened the definition and included more neurologically damaged kids? The question should be: What has happened to 1 in 6 children in America that both the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics acknowledge have a neurodevelopmental disability?

That, to me, is the question.

Q. And that's more than it used to be?

A. Oh, yes. In Virginia, it's a 66-fold increase in ADHD since 1985. So, even if you say, "OK, maybe we're overdiagnosing half the cases, because the drug reps are visiting us all and pushing more meds, and we're writing out prescriptions for kids when they don't really have a problem" -- I could throw out half my ADHD cases and I've still got a huge increase that begs for an explanation.

Autism has increased 11-fold in Virginia since 1985. If you independently look at things like peanut allergies and asthma, those numbers are going up, too.

Now, how much of that is vaccine related, how much of that is environmental toxins or other factors? It quickly gets very, very, very muddy, but when you've got bench (laboratory) science that's looking at the mechanism of thimerosal toxicity and that for many, many years has documented all the horrible things mercury does to your immune system and your nervous system; and when you've got all these things that theoretically could be caused by a culprit like thimerosal; and the levels of thimerosal (in vaccines), the levels of Ritalin, the levels of autism, the levels of ADHD all follow the same curve in time, how can you not look at that in a compelling way?

Q. The Institute of Medicine, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Aministration and others say they have looked at it, and that the epidemiology basically refutes it. The IOM said autism research funding should now go to "promising" areas.

A. But when you look at the Danish study, which they use a lot to refute the thimerosal-autism connection, it's not analagous to the United States.

Danish children only received six doses of thimerosal-containing vaccines in the first year of life vs. 12 doses in the United States. The Danish study purported to show an increase in autism after thimerosal was removed in 1992, but the diagnostic criteria changed and they added in outpatient cases of autism, whereas previously they only counted inpatients with autism.

Secondly, epidemiology uses too blunt a tool to look for the connection in the first place. Clearly, thimerosal didn't make every kid (who was vaccinated) autistic, so when epidemiology does not look at genetic predispositions, you are not going to be able to tease out those subsets and make meaningful conclusions about them.

Epidemiology missed the folate connection to neural tube defects, but clinical science established the link.

Q. This is the deficit in pregnant women that can cause spina bifida (an opening in the back around the spinal cord)?

A. Right. So, why does epidemiology trump clinical science and bench science? That's the thing that I don't understand. Also, the epidemiology studies have to be designed to answer the question they're asked to answer. If the studies are designed one way, and then you go back 10 years later and try to use those studies to answer a question about thimerosal or mercury toxicity or MMR (the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine), or whatever, you can't expect to find answers to questions it wasn't designed for in the first place.

Epidemiology is a tool for public health, and clearly it has a place in making these decisions, but I don't think it should have trump power over all the rest. It's very frustrating to believe that clinical observations and individual case histories have something valuable to teach, and to be told "that's all anecdotal" and we don't see these kids when we look at large populations.

Well, come to my office, they're here every day. It's the most puzzling thing I've ever tried to wrap my mind around.

Next: Treatment strategies that Mumper and others have begun using

This ongoing series on the roots and rise of autism seeks to be interactive with readers and will take note of comment, criticism and suggestions. E-mail: dolmsted@upi.com

Copyright 2005 by United Press International. All Rights Reserved.

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Friday, April 22, 2005

Infant vaccine is dangerous, researchers say

By Douglas Fischer

Preservative laced with mercury is common overseas but seldom used in U.S. anymore

A mercury-laced preservative once widely added to pediatric vaccines exposes infants' brains to twice the neurotoxin as previously suspected, offering evidence health guidelines may underestimate the risk newborns face, researchers say in a report published Thursday. The additive, thimerosal, has been used in vaccines since the 1930s and is almost 50 percent mercury by weight. Since 2001, manufacturers gradually have phased it from almost all domestic pediatric vaccines, though it remains in use overseas in cheaper "multidose" vaccines.

The study, published in Environmental Health Perspectives, a peer-reviewed publication of the National Institutes of Health, also chides health officials for abandoning an earlier recommendation that the preservative be completely phased out and further studies conducted.

And it fuels the debate concerning the federal government's aggressive vaccination plan that subjects infants to a battery of shots - some of which contain aluminum and other potentially harmful compounds - in their first weeks of life.

"We're talking about a low-level delivery of a toxin given to a baby on the first day of its life," said mercury expert Boyd Haley, chairman of the chemistry department at the University of Kentucky but not involved in the study.

"What's needed is a total study of the sensibility of the vaccine program. Why would you want to vaccinate a baby on the first day of its life?"

The report is one of the first to look beyond mercury blood levels resulting from vaccines. Instead it examines both the amount and the type of mercury reaching the brain. It suggests health officials examined the wrong compound and failed to look far enough when assessing the danger of mercury in thimerosal.

This is largely a past concern for the United States, given the predominance today of thimerosal-free vaccines. Both the study's lead author and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday urged parents to have their children vaccinated.

"That's the first message," said Thomas Burbacher, lead author and associate professor in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences at the University of Washington's School of Public Health.

"The bottom line is that trying to assess the effects of a compound with very little or no data is not a good thing to do. ... Unfortunately, we started doing studies on this compound way too late. Basic information like this should've been available decades ago."

However, the problem is very much alive for developing nations, where the additive is common. The World Health Organization has expressed interest in Burbacher's research. The problem, Burbacher said, is that regulators trying to assess thimerosal's harm used as a benchmark methylmercury, a widely studied compound, rather than the little-known compound called ethylmercury in thimerosal.

Both compounds cross the blood-brain barrier. But methylmercury breaks down slowly, whereas ethylmercury dissipates fairly rapidly, suggesting to regulators that a standard based on methylmercury would adequately protect infants.

Burbacher and colleagues found ethylmercury's fast breakdown leaves higher levels of so-called "inorganic" mercury in the brain. Inorganic mercury lingers in the brain for a year or more, potentially altering certain cells. A previous study has shown such damaged cells are also found in children with autism.

Using monkeys, Burbacher found the brains of thimerosal-exposed infants had twice as much inorganic mercury as methylmercury-exposed infants.

The Food and Drug Administration has never required testing of thimerosal's safety or of its safe exposure levels for newborns and children.

Although high mercury levels - particularly as a result of vaccinations - have long been suspected as a leading cause of skyrocketing autism levels, the CDC and Burbacher cautioned Wednesday against drawing any conclusion linking the two.

"To date, the vast majority of the science doesn't support an association between thimerosal and incidences of autism," said CDC spokesman Glen Nowak. But "at the end of the day, we still don't know what causes autism."

Others, however, expect such links to become apparent as thimerosal fades from use in the United States. Already, noted Haley, California's autism rates have decreased three of the past four quarters - a first.

"There's something in the vaccines doing it. That something is thimerosal."

The FDA's Web site on thimerosal and vaccinations, including a chart showing common pediatric vaccines and the date thimerosal was eliminated, can be found at www.fda.gov/cber/vaccine/thimerosal.htm

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Thursday, April 21, 2005


SafeMinds Recommends Additional Research Funding into the Neurological Impact of the Mercury-Based Preservative Thimerosal

Washington, DC—A study funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and conducted by University of Washington researcher Thomas M. Burbacher, PhD concludes that the mercury-based vaccine preservative thimerosal is more hazardous than medical professionals previously believed. SafeMinds, Sensible Action For Ending Mercury Induced Neurological Disorders, urges further research into the health risks created by the presence of thimerosal in vaccines administered to children and pregnant women.

Some health officials have suggested that the mercury in thimerosal is less toxic than other forms of mercury such as methylmercury, the highly toxic environmental form of mercury. This groundbreaking study, however titled “Comparison of Blood and Brain Mercury Levels in Infant Monkeys Exposed to Methylmercury or Vaccines Containing Thimerosal,” is the first of its kind to show that thimerosal’s mercury may actually be more harmful than methylmercury. The reason is the type of mercury in thimerosal – ethylmercury – quickly crosses the blood-brain barrier where it converts to a form that is unable to leave the brain. Dr. Burbacher’s study shows that twice as much mercury remains trapped in the brain from doses of ethylmercury in thimerosal compared to equal doses of methylmercury.

“These new findings undermine the position of vaccine makers, who have long denied harm from exposing a generation of children to excessive levels of mercury as a needless additive in vaccines,” said Sallie Bernard, co-founder of Safe Minds. “This study is yet another step in the complete reversal of scientific assumptions about the effects of thimerosal.”

The Institute of Medicine issued a report in 2004 that stated that there was no causal link between thimerosal and neurological disorders like autism. Inorganic mercury, which is what thimerosal leaves behind in the brain, contributes to microgliosis, a recently reported finding in the brains of those with autism. In light of these new findings Safe Minds recommends a complete reevaluation of this issue by the Institute of Medicine.

“This study contradicts the assumption that mercury from thimerosal (ethylmercury) is safer than environmental mercury (methylmercury) from eating fish and emissions from coal-fired power plants,” said Mark Blaxill, a board member of Safe Minds and an expert cited in the Burbacher study. “This study should compel government agencies to retract their flawed and premature conclusions regarding thimerosal and stick to the facts.”

Contact: Phil Elwood

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Tuesday, April 19, 2005

The Age of Autism: Julia


Leola, PA, Apr. 19 (UPI) -- Part 2 of 2. Three-year old Julia is napping when I arrive at the spare, neat, cheerful house on Musser School Road near the town of Leola in Lancaster County.

She is the reason I have driven through the budding countryside on this perfect spring day, but I really do not need to meet her.

In the last column, I wrote about trying to find autistic Amish people here in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch country, and noted there should be dozens of them -- if autism occurs at the same prevalence as the rest of the United States.

So far, there is evidence of only three, all of them children, the oldest age 9 or 10. Julia is one of them. I found out about her through a pediatrician in Richmond, Va., Dr. Mary Megson. I had been asking around for quite some time about autism and the Amish, and she provided the first direct link.

Megson said she would give my name to this child's mother, who could call if she chose. A few days later the phone rang. It was Stacey-jean Inion, an Amish-Mennonite woman. She, her husband Brent and their four children live simply, but they do drive a vehicle and have a telephone. After a few pleasantries, I told her about my trying to find autistic Amish.

Here is what she said, verbatim:

"Unfortunately our autistic daughter -- who's doing very well, she's been diagnosed with very, very severe autism -- is adopted from China, and so she would have had all her vaccines in China before we got her, and then she had most of her vaccines given to her in the United States before we got her.

"So we're probably not the pure case you're looking for."

Maybe not, but it was stunning that Julia Inion, the first autistic Amish person I could find, turned out to be adopted -- from another country, no less. It also was surprising that Stacey-jean launched unbidden into vaccines, because the Amish have a religious exemption from vaccination and presumably would not have given it much thought.

She said a minority of Amish families do, in fact, vaccinate their children these days, partly at the urging of public health officials.

"Almost every Amish family I know has had somebody from the health department knock on our door and try to convince us to get vaccines for our children," she said. "The younger Amish more and more are getting vaccines. It's a minority of children who vaccinate, but that is changing now."

Did she know of any other autistic Amish? Two more children, she said.

"One of them, we're very certain it was a vaccine reaction, even though the government would not agree with that."

Federal health officials have said there is no association between vaccinations and autism or learning disabilities.

"The other one I'm not sure if this child was vaccinated or not," she added.

During my visit to their home, I asked Stacey-jean to explain why she attributed the first case to vaccines.

"There's one family that we know, their daughter had a vaccine reaction and is now autistic. She was walking and functioning and a happy bright child, and 24 hours after she had her vaccine, her legs went limp and she had a typical high-pitched scream. They called the doctor and the doctor said it was fine -- a lot of high-pitched screaming goes along with it.

"She completely quit speaking," Stacey-jean said. "She completely quit making eye contact with people. She went in her own world."

This happened, Stacey-jean said, at "something like 15 months." The child is now about 8.

For similar reasons, Julia Inion's Chinese background is intriguing. China, India and Indonesia are among countries moving quickly to mass-vaccination programs. In some vaccines, they use a mercury-based preservative called thimerosal that keeps multiple-dose vials from becoming contaminated by repeated needle sticks.

Thimerosal was phased out of U.S. vaccines starting in 1999, after health officials became concerned about the amount of mercury infants and children were receiving. The officials said they simply were erring on the side of caution, and that all evidence favors rejection of any link between Autism Spectrum Disorders and thimerosal, or vaccines themselves.

Julia's vaccinations in China -- all given in one day at about age 15 months -- may well have contained thimerosal; the United States had stopped using it by the time she was born, but other countries with millions to vaccinate had not.

Stacey-jean said photographs of Julia taken in China before she was vaccinated showed a smiling alert child looking squarely at the camera. Her original adoptive family in the United States, overwhelmed trying to cope with an autistic child, gave Julia up for re-adoption. The Inions took her in knowing her diagnosis of severe autism.

I tried hard -- and am still trying -- to find people who know about other autistic Amish. Of the local health and social service agency personnel in Lancaster, some said they dealt with Amish people with disabilities, such as mental retardation, but none recalled seeing an autistic Amish.

Still, I could be trapped in a feedback loop: The Amish I am likeliest to know about -- because they have the most contact with the outside world -- also are likeliest to adopt a special-needs child such as Julia from outside the community, and likeliest to have their children vaccinated.

Another qualifier: The Inions are converts to the Amish-Mennonite religion (Brent is an Asian-American). They simply might not know about any number of autistic Amish sheltered quietly with their families for decades.

It also is possible the isolated Amish gene pool might confer some kind of immunity to autism -- which might be a useful topic for research.

Whatever the case, Stacey-jean thinks the autistic Amish are nowhere to be found.

"It is so much more rare among our people," she said. "My husband just said last week that so far we've never met a family that lives a healthy lifestyle and does not vaccinate their children that has an autistic child. We haven't come across one yet."

"Everywhere I go (outside the Amish community) I find children who are autistic, just because I have an autistic daughter -- in the grocery store, in the park, wherever I go. In the Amish community, I simply don't find that."


UPI researcher Kyle Pearson contributed to this article.


This ongoing series on the roots and rise of autism aims to be interactive with readers and welcomes comment, criticism and suggestions. E-mail: dolmsted@upi.com

Copyright 2005 by United Press International. All Rights Reserved.

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Monday, April 18, 2005

The Age of Autism: The Amish anomaly


Lancaster, PA, Apr. 18 (UPI) -- Part 1 of 2. Where are the autistic Amish? Here in Lancaster County, heart of Pennsylvania Dutch country, there should be well over 100 with some form of the disorder.

I have come here to find them, but so far my mission has failed, and the very few I have identified raise some very interesting questions about some widely held views on autism.

The mainstream scientific consensus says autism is a complex genetic disorder, one that has been around for millennia at roughly the same prevalence. That prevalence is now considered to be 1 in every 166 children born in the United States.

Applying that model to Lancaster County, there ought to be 130 Amish men, women and children here with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Well over 100, in rough terms.

Typically, half would harbor milder variants such as Asperger's Disorder or the catch-all Pervasive Development Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified -- PDD-NOS for short.

So let's drop those from our calculation, even though "mild" is a relative term when it comes to autism.

That means upwards of 50 Amish people of all ages should be living in Lancaster County with full-syndrome autism, the "classic autism" first described in 1943 by child psychiatrist Leo Kanner at Johns Hopkins University. The full-syndrome disorder is hard to miss, characterized by "markedly abnormal or impaired development in social interaction and communication and a markedly restricted repertoire of activities and interests," according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Why bother looking for them among the Amish? Because they could hold clues to the cause of autism.

The first half-dozen articles in this ongoing series on the roots and rise of autism examined the initial studies and early accounts of the disorder, first identified by Kanner among 11 U.S. children born starting in 1931.

Kanner wrote that his 1938 encounter with a child from Mississippi, identified as Donald T., "made me aware of a behavior pattern not known to me or anyone else theretofore." Kanner literally wrote the book on "Child Psychiatry," published in 1934.

If Kanner was correct -- if autism was new and increasingly prevalent -- something must have happened in the 1930s to trigger those first autistic cases. Genetic disorders do not begin suddenly or increase dramatically in prevalence in a short period of time.

That is why it is worth looking for autistic Amish -- to test reasoning against reality. Largely cut off for hundreds of years from American culture and scientific progress, the Amish might have had less exposure to some new factor triggering autism in the rest of population.

Surprising, but no one seems to have looked.

Of course, the Amish world is insular by nature; finding a small subset of Amish is a challenge by definition. Many Amish, particularly Old Order, ride horse-and-buggies, eschew electricity, do not attend public school, will not pose for pictures and do not chat casually with the "English," as they warily call the non-Amish.

Still, some Amish today interact with the outside world in many ways. Some drive, use phones, see doctors and send out Christmas cards with family photos. They all still refer to themselves as "Plain," but the definition of that word varies quite a bit.

So far, from sources inside and outside the Amish community, I have identified three Amish residents of Lancaster County who apparently have full-syndrome autism, all of them children.

A local woman told me there is one classroom with about 30 "special-needs" Amish children. In that classroom, there is one autistic Amish child.

Another autistic Amish child does not go to school.

The third is that woman's pre-school-age daughter.

If there were more, she said, she would know it.

What I learned about those children is the subject of the next column.


This ongoing series aims to be interactive with readers and will take note of comment, criticism and suggestions. E-mail: dolmsted@upi.com

Copyright 2005 by United Press International. All Rights Reserved.

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Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Autism Linked with Low Levels of Antioxidants

Oxidative stress, a suspected contributor to many disease processes like heart disease and cancer, also plays a role in autism, say researchers at the Experimental Biology 2005 conference.

Approximately 15 out of every 10,000 children born are diagnosed with autism. Autism is more prevalent in boys than girls, with four times as many boys affected than girls.

In a recent study, autistic children were found to have significantly lower levels of an antioxidant called glutathione and its metabolic precursors.

"Glutathione is the major antioxidant in cells important for detoxification and elimination of environmental toxins, and its active form is reduced in about 80 percent of the kids with autism," says Dr. S. Jill James, director of the biochemical genetics laboratory at Arkansas Children's Hospital Research Institute.

Free Radicals Can Damage Brain Cells

Reduced levels of antioxidants, such as glutathione, would increase the level of oxidative stress. Oxidative stress occurs when antioxidants are not able to clear the body of free radicals, which can damage cells in the brain, gastrointestinal tract, and immune system.

"[Our findings] suggest that these kids would be more sensitive to an environmental exposure and would be less likely to detox from heavy metals," says Dr. James, who is the study's lead author.

Exposure to heavy metals, such as the mercury preservative that was commonly used in children's vaccines until recently, has long been suspected as a trigger for autism in genetically susceptible children.

Most research, however, has failed to confirm this link, and in 2004, the Institute of Medicine issued a report stating that it did not believe that vaccines contributed to the development of autism.

Not everyone agreed with that conclusion, however. Laura Bono, chairwoman of the National Autism Association, and the parent of an autistic child, believes vaccines play some sort of role in the development of autism and says the new study's findings would seem to support a link.

"These are children that are more vulnerable, that don't quite detox the way the rest of us do," says Bono.

Dr. James did not look at the vaccine question for the current study. She says that autism is believed to have a genetic basis, but that it "takes an environmental trigger to bring out the genetics."

Definitive Low Levels of Glutathione

For this study, Dr. James and her colleagues compared blood samples of 90 autistic children to those of 45 children without the disorder, and found that the active form of glutathione was reduced by about 80 percent in children with autism. Dr. James also said the metabolic precursors of glutathione were reduced.

"If they have lower glutathione, they would reach a toxicity earlier than someone with higher levels," Dr. James notes. "But, it's not clear whether this is a cause or a consequence of autism," she adds.

Dr. James and her team also looked at changes that occur in several genes that could affect glutathione metabolism in blood samples from 233 autistic children, vs. 183 children without autism.

They found changes in three genes more often in the children with autism. Dr. James explains that these are common genes that do not cause autism, but they could contribute to the development of these metabolic abnormalities.

While this study is just a first step, she says, it would not be unreasonable for parents of autistic children to talk with their child's physician about giving them antioxidant supplements since these supplements are non-toxic.

Others are not so sure, however.

"This is an interesting study and worth some more follow-up, but for parents or clinicians, it's an item of note, not a call to action," says Dr. Craig Newschaffer, director of the Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities Epidemiology at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore.

"There are no leaps to be made about using antioxidants as a therapeutic agent," he notes.

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Thursday, April 07, 2005

Generation Hg? Is Autism puzzle solved?

Cover Story - The HooK

She was a beautiful baby with her mother's eyes. Daddy was there with the video camera when she took her first steps. She loved to play tickle monster.

She was about 18 months old when she stopped smiling and stopped talking. She didn't want to play anymore. She stopped looking at people. She started waking up in the middle of the night and screaming for hours.

The pediatrician told the parents they were worrying for no reason. He said every child is different. He said, "Let's wait and see."

By the time she was two, she had chronic diarrhea and drooled uncontrollably. She walked on her toes, flapped her hands, and spent much of her time staring into the middle distance.

The distraught parents rushed her from one doctor to another, begging for an explanation. An answer finally came: Your child has autism. It's a genetic brain disorder. We don't know what causes it, and there is no cure. Forty hours a week of therapy might make her behavior more acceptable, but it's not going to "cure" her. You need to start looking at institutions now because the good ones have long waiting lists.

The doctor sent the parents home with a video, and they sobbed as they watched children like their own daughter rocking, flapping their hands, and screaming. The narrator said, "We all have great dreams for our children. With the diagnosis of autism, the dream dies."


Thousands of Virginia families and millions worldwide are living through similar versions of the autism nightmare.

Lanier Rossignol, a Charlottesville mother of two young boys diagnosed with autism, recalls a similar experience with her first son.

"By the time he was 10 months old," says Rossignol, "he never looked at me, never responded to his name, and he was obsessed with spinning objects. I knew something was wrong, but no one believed me. Everyone said, 'He's fine, you're just imagining things.'"

Seven months later, her son was diagnosed with autism.

Rossignol describes how her second boy "totally regressed" when he was six months old. "He stopped responding to his name," she says. "He started hand-flapping."

Twenty years ago, autism affected fewer than one in 2,000 children; now the Centers for Disease Control estimates it's one in every 166. But just as the numbers of cases are growing, so is skepticism that it's a genetic disorder.

Alice felt dreadfully puzzled. The Hatter's remark seemed to have no sort of meaning in it, and yet it was certainly English. 'I don't quite understand you,' she said, as politely as she could. from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

"Mad as a hatter"-- the phrase originated not in Lewis Carroll's story, but in a psychiatric illness common among 19th-century hat makers that became known as Hatter's Disease.

Physicians were baffled throughout the first half of the 20th century when they were confronted with an epidemic of sick babies suffering from skin rashes, poor circulation, and respiratory distress. Thousands of babies died. The illness became known as Pink Disease because the fingertips, toes, and nose turn pink.

In the mid-1950s, in a fishing village on Minamata Bay, Japan, cats started shaking and inexplicably jumping into the bay. Then the villagers got terribly sick. Some died. Babies were born with mental retardation, uncontrolled tremors, and permanent palsy. Before mercury dumped by a nearby factory was pegged as the culprit, doctors dubbed it Minamata Disease.

Hatter's, Pink, Minamata, Barometer Maker's Disease-- no matter what doctors labeled the disorders, each was later conclusively found to be mercury poisoning.

"There are doctors out there telling parents they need to accept this, that there's nothing they can do. Do not listen to whoever tells you that! They are talking out of ignorance."-- Amanda Slim, a Charlottesville-area mother of a six-year-old child diagnosed with autism

Slim is among the growing numbers of people who believe that mercury, well known as among the most neurotoxic substances on the planet, is the culprit in autism.

To chemists, Mercury is "Hg," the only metal that is liquid at room temperature. That seemingly playful property earned it the moniker "quicksilver" from ancient Greeks. But inside the body, its effects are insidious.

Hundreds of times more toxic than lead, mercury wrecks the immune system and can serve as the spark that leads to a blazing spectrum of physical and psychiatric symptoms-- some of which take months to manifest.

"If what I write in the book is all true, we have just experienced one of the largest medical catastrophes of our time, putting a generation of American children at terrible risk with possibly devastating results" says David Kirby, author of Evidence of Harm, Mercury in Vaccines and the Autism Epidemic: A Medical Controversy, released in March by St. Martin's Press. (Kirby, a health/science contributor to the New York Times, will be speaking in Charlottesville later this month.)

Kirby's not alone in asking whether autism is a misdiagnosis for mercury poisoning. An increasing number of families, physicians, scientists, and some in Congress point to a growing body of evidence linking mercury toxicity with otherwise unexplained disorders like autism, Asperger's Syndrome, ADD, ADHD, and a host of escalating illnesses that afflict today's children in great numbers.

"Autism, Asperger's, PDD, ADD, ADHD, all of that stuff I think it's all the same thing," says Nell Goddin, a Charlottesville mother of a child diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome. "Until we get to a point where the labels are something other than subjective behavioral descriptions, that isn't science. That's just spinning your wheels."

The fact is that unprecedented concentrations of mercury were injected into children via vaccines beginning in the late 1980s. And the symptoms of mercury toxicity and autism are nearly identical.

Intriguingly, according to Kirby's book, autism rates began falling in California in 2004 after the removal of mercury compounds from vaccines. And many parents of children already suffering with autism are celebrating the fact that a growing number of children diagnosed early are making progress undreamed of a decade ago through "heavy metal chelation," a therapy that binds a sulphur compound with heavy metals such as mercury to flush them from the body. While chelation can be dangerous, many parents swear by it and are telling the world that the mysterious puzzle of autism has been solved.

Yet there are powerful forces who aren't about to swallow that pill. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the CDC, the Institutes of Medicine, the entire pharmaceutical industry, its lobbyists, and influential allies in Washington-- virtually the entire medical establishment-- stand united in opposition to the theory that mercury toxicity has something to do with autism.

"I believe that my grandson became autistic at least in part because he received vaccinations. He received nine in one day, and six of those contained mercury. He acted like any other normal child. Yet within one week he was running around flapping his arms, walking on his toes, banging his head against the wall, and he could not speak clearly anymore." Congressman Dan Burton, 2001

Mercury has been in vaccines since the 1930s in the form of a preservative called Thimerosal, which is 49.6 percent ethylmercury. In the early 1990s Thimerosal was banned from animal vaccines because it was too toxic. In 1998, it was removed from over-the-counter products because of safety concerns.

"Current scientific evidence does not support the theory that vaccines have caused autism," the American Academy of Pediatrics announced in 2003.

And yet that same year, the U.S. House Subcommittee on Human Rights and Wellness wrote, "Thimerosal used as a preservative in vaccines is likely related to the autism epidemic. This epidemic in all probability may have been prevented or curtailed had the FDA not been asleep at the switch regarding injected Thimerosal and the sharp rise of infant exposure to this known neurotoxin."

Thimerosol is still legal for and widely used in vaccines and flu shots. But it is hardly the only way for mercury to get into human bodies.

It's in our teeth. A so-called "silver" filling is at least 50 percent mercury, purportedly enough to pollute a 10-acre lake. Some studies suggest mercury vapor enters the bloodstream every time we chew or grind our teeth.

It's in the air. The EPA estimates that the nation's 1,100 coal-burning power plants spew 50 tons of mercury each year.

It collects in the water, builds up in fish (as it did in Minamata, Japan), and becomes more concentrated as it moves up the food supply.

It's in breast milk. According to the CDC, one in 12 childbearing women "already has unsafe blood levels of mercury," enough to cause neurological damage in her unborn children.

When her six-month-old began exhibiting many of the autistic symptoms that his older brother had, Rossignol had her breast milk tested. She discovered that her baby was getting 10 times the EPA daily limit of mercury.

Generation Mercury was born in 1988, the year Dustin Hoffman's Rain Man made autism a household world (even though the character Hoffman played also had Savant Syndrome, a rare and separate disorder). That was also the year that, beginning with the Hib vaccine, several new shots were added to the vaccine schedule.

Over the next few years, the number of vaccinations recommended for children under the age of two went from 8 to 20. The amount of ethylmercury injected into the bloodstreams of babies and toddlers jumped 246 percent. Within the first six months of life, a baby received 187.5 micrograms of ethylmercury, far beyond EPA safety limits. And infants don't produce the bile necessary to excrete mercury from their bodies.

It was not until 1999 that the American Academy of Pediatrics, the CDC, the FDA, and the National Institutes of Health issued a joint statement "urging" vaccine manufacturers to remove Thimerosal. Despite an agreement to phase Thimerosal out of vaccines for children, existing stocks of Thimerosal-laced vaccines could still remain on shelves.

Thimerosal is still present in most flu shots. It is used in the manufacturing process of a variety of pharmaceutical products. And vaccines currently being shipped overseas have high concentrations of Thimerosal.

Receiving the Hib vaccine with Thimerosal on the first day of birth is the equivalent of a 200-pound adult male consuming 1,400 cans of tuna in a single day. The analogy is not exactly fair unless the adult male stops producing enough bile to excrete the mercury. Generationrescue.org

Dr. Neal Halsey was in charge of the vaccine program at the American Academy of Pediatrics from1995 to 1999. When asked about the mercury that babies received under his watch, he told a reporter, "My first reaction was simply disbelief... what I believed, and what everybody else believed, was that [mercury] was truly a trace, a biologically insignificant amount. My honest belief is that if the labels had had the mercury content in micrograms, this would have been uncovered years ago. But the fact is, no one did the calculation."

Someone evidently did. A 1991 Merck memo obtained by the LA Times warned that six-month-old children would get a mercury dose up to 87 times higher than the maximum daily consumption of mercury from fish. But whoever wrote it-- and whoever read it-- kept quiet.

Over the decade that followed, the rate of autism shot up 1000 percent nationwide.

"The injection of Thimerosal into expectant mothers and newborn infants represents without a doubt a severe, major toxic exposure and is most likely causal in autism spectrum disorders."Boyd Haley, Professor and Chair, Department of Chemistry, University of Kentucky, 2002

Dr. Susan Anderson is an Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Virginia and director of the autism program at the Kluge Children's Rehabilitation Center. Does she believe autism is a misdiagnosis for mercury poisoning?

"I think not," she says. "If it was, then we would be seeing a lot more of it than we do. I mean, everybody got the immunizations."

Like the majority of her colleagues, Anderson believes that autism is a genetic condition that causes a disorder in brain neurochemistry and not a manifestation of heavy metal toxicity-- and that it has nothing to do with vaccines. As Anderson puts it, "Tying [the increase in autism] to the change in the vaccine schedule is wrong."

Dr. Anderson, like most pediatricians, does not see an epidemic of autism. Genetic epidemics are, after all, a scientific impossibility. While she agrees that the numbers of children diagnosed with autism, Asperger's, and pervasive developmental disorder (PDD), have climbed (an increase of 726 percent in Virginia between 1990 and 2003), she attributes most of that to better diagnostic tools.

Dr. Mary Megson disagrees. A Richmond-based developmental pediatrician, Megson specializes in biomedical approaches to the treatment of autism.

"Are we just better at diagnosing [autism]?" Megson asks. "Well, you don't miss a child who's been talking and then becomes nonverbal, flaps, paces, and doesn't look you in the eye."

For most pediatricians, the fact that autism shares over 100 symptoms and characteristics with mercury poisoning [see sidebar], the fact that its incidence has increased among American children as the mercury load in vaccines has gone up, and the fact that autism was not diagnosed in the U.S. until after mercury was added to vaccines in the 1930s, are all unfortunate coincidences.

They form a regrettable pattern that has led many desperate parents and some in the medical community to draw hyperbolic conclusions that can't be substantiated with, in Anderson's words, "convincing, evidence-based research."

Dr. Elizabeth Mumper is an Associate Professor of Pediatrics and Family Medicine at the University of Virginia and president of Advocates for Children, a pediatric clinic in Lynchburg. Mumper believes the evidence supports a connection between mercury and autism. "I have seen a bibliography of well over a thousand articles looking at Thimerosal and showing the various ways in which it's harmful," she says. "The evidence is there-- good, reliable scientific evidence. Getting physicians to look at it is another story."

Mumper regrets that few of her colleagues share her belief in the connection between autism and mercury exposure. "I've made very little inroads with my mainstream colleagues because I have not been very successful at getting them to come to meetings," says Mumper, who is speaking at one such meeting April 30. [See sidebar]

Another local physician familiar with autism who asked not to be identified in this article says, "The research is there. But [physicians] won't take the time to look at it. These kids have been poisoned. I think pediatricians have been in denial for a long time. And they're in denial because they are too horrified at the possibility.

"We're looking at a generation of babies who've been poisoned due to negligence and incompetence. I can't be more clear about this: there is no hope for a child with autism today in mainstream medicine. Twenty years from now, the fact that we even debated [the autism/mercury link] will be ludicrous."

Results of one powerful study were published last month. Led by Raymond F. Palmer of the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio, the study, forthcoming in the quarterly Health and Place, found an association between rates of autism and mercury pollution. Every 1000 pounds of environmentally released mercury corresponded to a 61 percent increase in the rate of autism, the study showed.

While the CDC, the FDA, and the American Academy of Pediatrics concede that babies and children vaccinated in the late 1980s and throughout the '90s were exposed to cumulative mercury levels far beyond what is considered safe, they still maintain that a connection between concentrations of mercury in vaccines and the epidemic rates of autism among America's youngest generation cannot be proved.

In other words, according to this logic, there's no proof excessive mercury exposure can cause the symptoms of mercury poisoning.

The authors live in Albemarle County. They have a three-year-old child diagnosed with autism who has made dramatic improvements following chelation and biomedical treatments. Bell is an assistant professor of anthropology at Washington and Lee University. Barefoot's books include The Corner: A History of Student Life at the University of Virginia and Thomas Jefferson on Leadership.

~~SIDEBAR- Autism Awareness Month noted locally

April 14-15, Thursday and Friday, Cavalier Inn

"Behavioral Approaches to the Education of Children with Autism," conference sponsored by the Virginia Institute of Autism. 923-8252 viaschool.org

April 19, Tuesday, New Dominion Bookshop, 5:30pm

New York Times Science/Health contributor David Kirby discusses his new book, Evidence of Harm: Mercury in Vaccines and the Autism Epidemic: A Medical Controversy. evidenceofharm.com

April 30, Saturday, Omni Hotel, 8:30am-4:45pm

"Recent Advances in the Biology of Autism," conference sponsored by the Virginia chapter of the National Autism Association. Speakers include Drs. Andrew Wakefield, Jeffrey Bradstreet, Sandra Jill James, and Elizabeth Mumper. 977-4198 naa-va.org

~~SIDEBAR- Evidence or coincidence?

Some of the over 100 symptoms and characteristics shared by both mercury poisoning and Autism Spectrum Disorder

Social withdrawal

Lack of eye contact

Delayed language use

Loss of speech

Hand flapping


Toe walking

Anxiety and Irrational fears


Hypersensitivity to light, noise, touch

Uncoordination, poor motor skills

Head banging

Staring spells

Sleep difficulties

Visual impairment

Gastrointestinal disorders

Eczema, rashes

ADD and ADHD traits

Source: "Autism: A Novel Form of Mercury Poisoning," Journal of Medical Hypotheses, April 2001

SIDEBAR- Mercurial data

Thimerosal is 49.6 percent ethylmercury. Ethylmercury is many times more toxic than the organic mercury that permeates our environment.

Thimerosal was added to vaccines as a preservative beginning in the early 1930s and has been in use ever since.

Autism was first diagnosed in America around 1940.

In the 1990s, the number of vaccines mandated for American children under the age of two went from 8 to 20. The amount of ethylmercury received by children jumped 246 percent.

Since that time, the incidence rate of autism has shot up approximately 1000 percent nationwide. A child is diagnosed with autism every 20 minutes.

Rates have also skyrocketed for ADD, ADHD, speech delays, childhood diabetes, eczema, asthma, and allergies. According to the CDC, 1 in 6 children now has some type of developmental or behavioral disorder.


Listen to this article Listen to this article | Posted by Becca

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