Last week I wrote about an alarming report out of Britain that fully a third of children coming into the education system have issues with speech, socialization and toileting. This iatrogenic, man-made, unprecedented catastrophe -- which is what it is unless you just want to argue it's always been this way -- was airily displaced onto kids having too much smartphone access, not enough parental interaction, and so on. I said it was another species of parent-blaming -- it now appears to be the primary task of moms and dads these days to keep their children away from all the appurtenances of modern life lest they be ineducable by age 5. But unless you want to turn the phone to airplane mode and go on retreat in the hills of Virginia (as I did this past week, in fact), that's not a very reasonable expectation. And I'm not sure why letting Johnny play Wib Wob during dinner at Outback is any more toxic for the kid than coloring bunny rabbits on the place mat. Is he supposed to discuss the threat to democracy posed by the presumptive Republican or Democratic nominee?
Recently the reliably tone-deaf Autism Speaks plied another version of the "parents did it" canard with one of its Weatherstone grants to post-doctoral students. From AS: "Eric Rubenstein, of the University of North Carolina, will explore the association between autism symptoms in children diagnosed with the condition and autism-like behavioral traits in their parents (who don’t have autism). The goal is to better understand how and when inherited factors play a role in the development of autism and then use this information to tailor interventions that can best meet a child’s needs. The study also promises to deepen understanding of the inherited traits and biology of different subtypes of autism."
Nothing against Rubenstein, but here's the role autism-like traits play in making your kid autistic: None. Now give me my grant money! This reeks of the Geek Syndrome, in which mere oddities in adults somehow get magnified when they mate in Mountain View et voila, you've got a disabled kid. In fact, 20 times more disabled kids than two decades ago.
Even rainy weather points to poor parenting. As the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported in 2008, a study found higher rates of autism in rainier counties. Could it be (cue Church Lady's voice here) mercury? In water picked up from toxic lakes and streams and dumped on Johnny's house? No: "This week's peer-reviewed paper raised the possibility that heavy rainfall forces vulnerable children indoors, where there is greater exposure to cleaning chemicals and television, and less exposure to sunshine -- and the vitamin D it produces."
Vitamin D -- maybe, although we've had dark days since the dawn, so to speak, of time. But letting a child get within half a mile of cleaning chemicals and TV -- that's bad parenting! Get your toilet scrub at Whole Foods and play patty cake with your child all day or face the wrath of the autism causation committee! (A similar "association" followed Hurricane Katrina, in which a spike in autism cases was attributed to maternal stress, not, never, no, of course not, to the toxic sludge that spilled into neighborhoods. If only these moms had meditated for a week with me instead of getting hysterical about a little old hurricane. It's their fault, you see.)
Back when I first started writing about autism for UPI, and was just starting to suspect the role of toxins in the early cases, I wrote that "it's not who the parents were, it's what they did." But that I meant that it wasn't their personalities, or their intellectual and mathematical and science bents -- and by the descriptions of Leo Kanner and others they did seem a bit bent -- it was the unrecognized environmental risks from their occupations. People seemed to forget that doctors, scientists, engineers, researchers are the leading edge of toxic exposures to novel chemicals of all kinds. Boyd Haley used the great term "bucket chemists" to convey what lots of them did -- slop chemicals into beakers and pour them into each other and suck up (with their mouths -- really) enough liquid in pipettes to keep the experiment rolling.
I've written about it before, so let me repeat myself, to wit:
Is mainstream science and medicine ever going to recognize the real significance of the repeated clues linking parental occupation and risk of autism? I vote no. A study from the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston found thusly, according to Science Daily:
"Children of fathers who are in technical occupations are more likely to have an autism spectrum disorder, according to researchers. Fathers who worked in engineering were two times as likely to have a child with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Those who worked in finance were four times more likely and those who worked in health care occupations were six times more likely to have a child on the autism spectrum. There was no association with a mother's occupation."
And what might account for this seeming hodgepodge of risks? According to a study author, "Parental occupation could be indicative of autistic-like behaviors and preferences and serve as another factor in a clinician's diagnosis of a child with suspected autism. Medical students can be taught that this is one of the things to consider."
I guess that means that perseverative and detail-oriented anti-social types would be drawn to those fields It makes no sense that fathers, not mothers, would be 100 percent of the risk factor, unless both were in technical fields. I suspect that points to the real clue here -- toxic exposures. The workplace is where engineers, lab workers, chemists get the exposure and bring it home one way or the other. (Finance, I would guess. points to higher income and more medical interventions. And medicine points to, well, a lot of medicine!) Women get it from all kinds of things -- mercury flu shots in pregnancy come to mind -- that directly expose the fetus or infant without needing to be mediated by occupation. That adds enough noise to drown out the occupational clue for moms alone.
The bad faith that defines the mainstream medical response to autism is entirely evident here. You really need to turn away from a well-marked trail of evidence to get lost in these weeds. This is something Mark Blaxill and I have been writing about for years, and at the risk of repeating ourselves, let me marshal the evidence again.
In the 1970s -- closer to the start of autism than to today, and better able to tease out signals -- two complementary studies starkly outlined the risk between parents' exposure to toxins and the risk for autism. I wrote about that at UPI, in a two-part series in 2006 that "highlighted a study by Thomas Felicetti, now executive director of Beechwood Rehabilitation Services in Langhorne, Pa. As Felicetti described it in the journal Milieu Therapy in 1981, he compared the occupations of 20 parents of autistic children, 20 parents of retarded children and 20 parents of "normal" children who were friends and neighbors of those attending the Avalon School in Massachusetts where he taught at the time.
"The results did, in fact, suggest a chemical connection," he wrote. "Eight of the 37 known parents of the autistic children had sustained occupational exposure to chemicals prior to conception. Five were chemists and three worked in related fields. The exposed parents represent 21 percent of the autistic group. This compared to 2.7 percent of the retardation controls and 10 percent of the normal controls. The data, subjected to statistical analysis, demonstrated a chemical connection.
"The results of this study point in the direction of chemical exposure as an etiological factor in the birth of autistic children." [He emphasized that educational level had nothing to do with it. One father of an autistic child was a roof tarrier. That's chemicals, not credentials.]