Last week this column looked at How To Not Connect the Dots, focusing on a New York Times report about problems boys have with school titled "A Link Between Fidgety Boys And a Sputtering Economy." The Times piece came very close to the core issue -- what's the matter with kids today?, and especially, what's the matter with boys? Things have gotten so dire, and the implications so large, that even a mainstream mouthpiece like The Times has no hesitation linking boys' problems to the overall economic fate of the country.
"If the United States is going to build a better-functioning economy than the one we've had over the last 15 years, we're going to have to solve our boy problems," the article declared, adding that if only girls are considered, there's no problem at all. But the solutions on offer in the piece, and in the research paper it was based on, and among the "experts" in general, amount to evidence-free bromides -- better schools, more understanding of the ways boys learn, more support for families because boys suffer more when fathers are absent. To quote the Beatles: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Missing was any sense that environmental factors, and specifically toxins, which have been repeatedly linked to problems like ADHD ("fidgetiness") and other neurodevelopmental disorders, which affect 1 in 6 children, and several times more boys than girls, could be playing a role.
This week, NYT readers weighed in with letters to the editor under the title, "The Different Ways Boys Learn," yet another assumption masquerading as wisdom. Here we went again. Sample: "The achievement gap between boys and girls is not quite the mystery your article describes. 'Educational reforms' pushed by wealthy donors like the Gates Foundation, testing corporations and both Democrats and Republicans have cut recess, gym and the arts to focus on testing."
Ah yes, no recess, no fingerpainting, too many tests! How will we ever survive as a nation? And another: "Your article doesn’t mention an important ingredient of the problem. The rise in boys’ troubles coincides exactly with the push by schools to ramp up literacy demands in the earliest grades — a time when boys are least able to cope with reading and writing."
Ah yes, teaching boys to read and write -- that's why America is in decline. That letter was by Richard Whitmire, author of the book "Why Boys Fail," a former and very capable colleague of mine. Nonetheless, he completely misses the biological point.
And another: "Multiple studies document the academically and personally damaging effects of too much recreational 'screen time,' particularly for youths on the lower socioeconomic rungs." TV and video games, the ruination of many a young man. A capital T and that rhymes with P and that stands for ... pixilated peril! (Man, did I ever have a lot of "screen time" as a kid -- to my childhood mind, the greatest show in town was Huckleyberry Hound.)
Come on, people. Boys are being damaged in a much more fundamental and durable way, which damages our country, and hence all of us, and the damage is not that hard to figure out. Autism is one heck of a clue, because it is the neurodevelopmental and learning and socialization disorder sine qua non, because it's new, because it vastly selects boys over girls, and because it's got to be environmental. That is why we call this the age of autism -- autism is telling us the nature of our problem.
So, having described last week how to not connect the dots, let me try to connect them with as few strokes as possible, kind of like one of these brain teasers where you have to link all the dots with straight lines without lifting your pencil, and can only do it when you literally think outside the box you mistakenly believe you are in.
I think you need just three dots to triangulate autism, and hence the rest of the neurodevelopmental issues affecting boys -- and children, and society, and the world -- that have so perplexed the experts.
One dot is mercury. Mercury, the organic kind used in vaccines and pesticides, clearly links the first cases of autism reported in 1943. None of the people who call us cranks or "anti-vaccine" ever bother, or perhaps the word is dare, to look at this pattern, which Mark Blaxill and I outlined in our book, The Age of Autism -- Mercury, Medicine, and a Man-made Epidemic. (See the 10-minute video version on our home page, How Mercury Triggered the Age of Autism..) The first use of ethyl mercury in commercial products in the 1930s stands out in those autism case histories like blood under Luminol at a crime scene.