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Why Is Autism On The Rise?

Here in the UK about one in one hundred people have an autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) which could be conditions such as Asperger syndrome (AS) or autism. The reason the term ‘spectrum’ is used is because the symptoms of these disorders are very varied. Children with an ASD generally are similar in that they find it difficult relating to others because they do not develop their language and social skills in the same way that other children who are the same age do. Children who have autism are often diagnosed by the time they are two years old. They find it hard to communicate and interact. Autistic children sometimes have a learning difficulty like dyslexia and autism is more common in boys. Asperger syndrome is usually not as severe as autism although it is a similar condition. Children with AS do not usually have a learning difficulty and do not find it as difficult to communicate as autistic children. AS children often have an average or above average intelligence.

It is not completely understood at the moment as to what the causes are of ASDs. It is thought that the conditions run in families. There is a theory that autism is linked to the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine but there is no scientific evidence that proves this to date.

An environmental author called Brita Belli wrote a book called ‘The Autism Puzzle’. It is about how in Europe, Asia and the US autistic spectrum disorders are on the rise and how there may be a strong theory that it could be to do with environmental poisons. Belli studies the chemicals that we eat, drink and inhale in our modern world. Belli acknowledges that more children are being diagnosed with ASDs because doctors are now more knowledgeable about the conditions. Years ago many autistic children were just labelled eccentric or developmentally disabled. She also agrees that genetics probably play a part. However, Belli writes that she believes there is another important factor to consider because there has not been a rise in how many adults and teenagers being diagnosed with the disorders or misdiagnosed in the past. This realisation stirred Belli’s curiosity and she began researching the relationship between the health of human beings and environmental poisons.
Belli begins by saying that “The idea that a toxin can cause autism is neither controversial nor speculative,” because thalidomide, valproic acid, misoprostol are all medications used in the past which have been linked to autism. Also an insecticide called chlorpyrifos has been blamed too. Belli goes on to say “Many other chemicals distributed far and wide across the natural world by power plant smokestacks, leaking waste sites, improper storage facilities, and outdated manufacturing processes have been proven to cause injury to developing brains”.

Belli talks about lead, mercury, PCBs and chemicals used to make flame retardants, electronic equipment, insulation and plastics being known to pose risks to foetuses and newborn babies. She is very interested in ‘autism clusters’ which are areas in the world that have a higher rate of ASDs. A researcher called Carol Reinisch carried out experiments on clam embryos and discovered that a combination of chemicals have a much more destructive impact on the body than one chemical on its own. Belli wrote of Reinisch’s research that she “made a solid case for the fact that toxins in combination can have a unique impact on the way brains develop. It is likely not one bodily insult that’s driving up [autism] cases, but a number of contaminants and exposures acting in concert.”

By Eirian Hallinan

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