Have you ever tried to talk to someone involved with autism from the “other” side about recovered children?
Typically, the conversation goes something like this:
Us: So you think autism is a genetic condition and biomedical intervention is quackery?
Them: Yes, exactly.
Us: But what about the children who are recovered, how do you explain them?
Them: Well, they may have been misdiagnosed…
Us: Well what about the kids who have multiple diagnoses saying they were autistic and have been re-screened and no longer have a diagnosis?
Them: Well…a certain percentage of autistic children do spontaneously recover, we know that’s true. They probably fall into this camp.
Us: They spontaneously recover? What does that mean?
Them: Well…they do normalize…we just don’t know why.
Us: But most of the parents of recovered kids can tell you exactly why they recovered – they have the tests, videotape, and first hand experience to walk you through it.
Them: Well, they may think they know why, but no one really does…
And, there you have it: "Spontaneous recovery." I thought that was about as ridiculous as it would get. Until I read this recent News Day article, which reports on some scientists from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory with a new “discovery” regarding genes and autism:
“With his Cold Spring Harbor collaborators, Jonathan Sebat and Lakshmi Muthuswamy, Wigler has found that spontaneous mutations specific to autism occur with a relative degree of frequency in the human genome. These random strikes are technically known as copy number variants, or CNVs. The Cold Spring Harbor team defines these mutating hits as a major cause of autism.”
Spontaneous Genetic Mutations. Yup, that’s what they’re saying.
“Why does your son have autism?”
“Well, nothing we could do, he got some spontaneous genetic mutations. Oh well.”
Shockingly, a measure of sanity came from a very unlikely source in the article, Alison Singer of Autism Speaks who noted:
"We want them to pursue the science wherever it leads," Singer said. "But we don't want to get into a situation where we blame the parents. When some parents read stories about older fathers or older mothers, they can become very sensitive." Singer said what's missing in Wigler's work is the mechanism that causes genes to mutate. Susceptibility genes, she said, often need an outside stimulus to set off a genetic chain of events. Perhaps parents may be correct who think vaccination underlies autism, said Singer, whose daughter and brother are autistic.
(Because I’m writing about the “spontaneous” theories right now, I’ll let Ms. Singer’s comments about vaccines go for the moment with a three-letter commentary: WTF?!)
Ms. Singer points out what is missing from all this “spontaneous” talk: something has to cause the spontaneous! Spontaneous is simply a euphemism for: We haven’t a friggin’ clue why this child recovered or why this gene mutated.
As Professor Boyd Haley so eloquently pointed out in an email after reading about the new “spontaneous mutation” study:
This is so much smoke and mirrors that it is unbelievable. First, the "spontaneous mutations" they claim causes autism have to have a cause of their own. Spontaneous mutations did not first appear in 1985-88, they have been around forever. Spontaneous mutations are caused by chemical events such as oxidative stress that is associated with hydroxyl radical formation and other reactive oxygen species (ROSs). ROSs react with the bases in DNA changing them and causing the "spontaneous mutations" they refer to.
To summarize, all spontaneous mutations are caused by chemical induced reactions---they are just called "spontaneous" because the geneticist does not know what caused them. The reported increase in "spontaneous mutations" in autistics has to be due to an abnormal body chemistry (e.g. increased oxidative stress caused by a toxicant) in their body. DNA bases do not mutate without some undue stress such as oxidation or photolysis by UV light.
Therefore, it is ridiculous to state that "spontaneous mutations" are the genetic cause of autism without searching deeper to see what toxic exposure caused the abnormal chemical environment in their bodies that lead to the mutations. For example, low glutathione levels or the inability to excrete mercury in an individual (reported in autistic children) could cause an oxidative stress in the body leading to the spontaneous mutations when this individual is exposed to a toxicant like mercury or thimerosal. But without the toxic exposure there would be no "spontaneous mutations".
As an added explanation, anyone that has any significant chronic illness most likely would have more "spontaneous mutations" than a comparative healthy person. No one should be surprised that a toxic autistic child would have more "spontaneous mutations" than a comparative healthy child, it has been proven time and time again that autistics are ill and suffering from oxidative stress and aberrant body chemistries.
The geneticists at Cold Spring Harbor most likely know this, but who wouldn't want to pitch the problem to obtain millions more in funding? Calling this a unifying theory is pathetic and misleading. If indeed, the spontaneous mutations are causing the autism then there will be no cure and no chance of reversal as today it is not known how to reverse mutations.
However, if the toxic effects leading to the oxidative stress is causing the autism by chemistry not at the genetic level, then removing or reversing the toxic effects can lead to a cure. I think the latter is most likely, otherwise the geneticists would have found a set of specific mutations that correlated to autism and they did not report such to my knowledge.
Thank you, Professor Haley, for always being a voice of reason and sanity for parents trying to wade through the seemingly endless supply of science trying to disprove what many of us believe to be true: that autism is an environmental condition, triggered by outside factors like vaccines and heavy metals and therefore treatable.
J.B. Handley is co-founder of Generation Rescue.