Harvard By Anne Dachel

I read the cover story, A Spectrum of Disorders, The urgent search to understand the biological basis of autism, by Ashley Pettus in the current HARVARD MAGAZINE for January - February 2008. I printed out the eight page article and looked through it for details about autism. 

Ashley Pettus writes about the "urgent search to understand" autism, but what we were given in her report hardly indicates that autism is anything to really be concerned about.  Lots of theories are mentioned at length with impressive-sounding terms like "genomics," "spontaneous genetic change," and "cognitive deficit," but if readers picked up the article thinking that they'd learn anything new to explain why autism is now an epidemic, they'd be sadly disappointed.

The writer devotes much of the article to convincing us that genes cause autism and that the disorder has been misdiagnosed in the past.  We're given the history of autism back to the 1930s and it seems that until the 80s, experts just didn't understand it.  Pettus writes, "In the ensuing years, the predominant view of autism as a discrete psychoemotional condition gave way to the idea of a continuum of biologically based autistic syndromes, requiring greater diagnostic specificity. By 1994, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) listed detailed criteria for five 'pervasive developmental disorders' (PDDs), including Asperger's, that comprised the 'autism spectrum.' "

Pettus furthers explains, "The increased awareness of autism's related conditions and their symptoms corresponded to a steep rise in diagnoses in the early 1990s."  At another point in the piece we are told, "Much of this increase stems from a broadening of the diagnostic category. Clinicians now recognize a 'spectrum' of autistic disorders that encompasses children with mental retardation and little or no language (low-functioning autism) as well as those with high IQs and precocious vocabularies (Asperger's syndrome)."  This expanded definition of autism would seem to account for the surge in autism.

Pettus points to the need for early diagnosing and intervention.  She even cautions that this may lead to some degree of over-diagnosing of autism.  At the end of the article we're left with the thought that there's much work to be done.  Pettus writes, "Huge challenges lie ahead -- from teasing out combinations of genes to determining the developmental mechanisms and the role of the environment - but the necessary teams of investigators are finally in place to begin to make the connections."

Pettus refers autism as a "puzzle" in her article and a puzzle is certainly nothing to get really worried about.  We hear again that the rate of autism hasn't increased even though most adults couldn't name even one child they grew up with who was labeled autistic or who displayed the characteristics of autism.  The fact that everyone now knows someone with an affected child shouldn't be a worry however.  The number of autistic students overwhelming our schools are merely the result of better diagnosing and an expanded spectrum of autistic disorders. This has also been the constant mantra of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  They've been counting children with autism for over ten years and they still don't know if more children have autism or if the numbers are because of greater awareness.
It should be noted that writers like Ashley Pettus who tell us that autism has always been around like this -- doctors just weren't able to recognize it -- never have to prove it.  Why isn't there even one study that can show us the adults with autism at the same rate we see in our children?  The signs of autism are clearly outlined in the diagnostic criteria, why can't we find those misdiagnosed/undiagnosed adults?

Pettus shows no concern over all the special needs students in our schools that weren't there just twenty years ago.  If children always had autism like they do today, what did we do with them?  It's a little hard to miss an autistic child, even a mildly affected one.  Why are schools facing bankrupting costs educating so many disabled children and why are there endless waiting lists for services?

Pettus makes one reference to environmental factors as a reason for the surge in autism.   

She writes, "There is a growing sense among researchers and clinicians that the real incidence of autism is on the rise and that environmental triggers likely play a role. The potential factors range from chemicals in food and cosmetics to parental age, stress, and reproductive technologies-offering no clear indication of where epidemiological studies might begin."

While Pettus concedes that chemicals in food or in cosmetics might be involved in autism, we're hastily told that the deadly element mercury used as a preservative in vaccines isn't a possible cause and neither is the MMR vaccine.  Pettus writes, "Many parents became convinced that the escalating numbers of cases stemmed from exposure to thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative used in childhood vaccines.  Another theory linked the measles/mumps/rubella (MMR) vaccine, in particular, to the onset of autistic symptoms.  Numerous epidemiological studies have failed to substantiate these claims, and in 2004 the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies found no causal relationship between either mercury or MMR vaccine and autism."

With a total of three sentences in the eight page article, Pettus dismisses the most heated controversy in medicine today.  As proof she points to the numerous studies done on vaccines along with the famous IOM report of 2004.

In truth, many in the autism community are much better informed than Pettus.  They'd be quick to respond that these epidemiological studies are the same type of population studies that were used by the tobacco industry in the 1940s and 50s as proof that smoking didn't cause lung cancer. 

Pettus claims that only parents link autism to the vaccinations children receive.  This is disingenuous and it ignores the mounting research by many well-credentialed scientists from leading universities that does connect the tripling of the vaccine schedule since the 1980s to the explosion in autism in our children.

The CDC has provided endless epidemiological studies on vaccines and autism.  Since this is the agency that runs the vaccine program, it's pretty likely that the results will always show vaccines don't cause autism. The IOM Report from 2004 was done under the direction of the CDC and it settled nothing.  The CDC is the agency where hundreds of individuals have conflict of interest waivers because of their direct financial ties to the vaccine makers. Any findings coming from them will be suspect.

In addition, there is no explanation given in the article for why so many of our children have concomitant health issues like severe allergies, epilepsy, asthma, and bowel disorders.  The emphasis is that genes cause autism and the only way this claim can work is if there's been no recognized increase in the rate of autism.  Genes can't cause an epidemic, therefore it's important to stress that we're always had so many children with autism, they just didn't have the right diagnosis. 

The real proof of how wrong Ashley Pettus and others are will be evident in the next five to ten years as the generation of children with autism becomes the generation of adults with autism, dependent on the taxpayers for their support and care.  This surge in disability claims will happen at the same time the post WWII generation starts to retire.

I would ask Ashley Pettus to look into the findings by Harvard researcher Michael Ganz.  Ganz made a chilling prediction of the future cost to our society as more and more of these children become adults. He found that it will cost about $3.2 million to take care of an autistic person over his or her lifetime. These figures are felt by others to be a gross underestimate of the eventual autism price tag.   Read his findings HERE.   

Pettus seems unconcerned about the actual autism rate in her piece.  In fact, she gives us incorrect numbers.  In the second paragraph she writes, "In recent years, diagnoses of autism have soared: to as many as one for every 166 children in the United States, according to recent estimates published by the Centers for Disease Control." 

"Recent estimates"?  If Pettus had really looked into this, she'd have discovered that last February the CDC gave us the new official autism rate of one in every 150 children in the U.S., including one in every 94 boys and that's only an average.  Places like New Jersey have much worse numbers.  There one in every 94 children is affected -- specifically one in every 60 boys. 

These numbers didn't cause more than a ripple of concern at the CDC and they attributed the increase to their own "better studies."  I'm sure Ashley Pettus would agree.

Anne Dachel is Media Editor for Age of Autism.


Jorma Takala

The cause of autism is.....

The preservative used in most margarine and mayonnaise in virtually every household, every restaurant and grocery store across America and in quite a few other countries around the world!

It's called Calcium Disodium EDTA, Made by the DOW chemical company from Formaldehyde and Sodium Cyanide and all the other artificial additives, Colors, flavors, msg and the preservatives BHA, BHT(in most pepperoni) and TBHQ (mcnuggets and other chicken products)

The mechanism through which autism is caused is the migraine headache.

The brain has no pain receptors therefor it feel no pain.
The migraine headache is caused by swelling of the brains stem which results in pinching off the cisterna magna, The craniospinal fluid goes into the skull but does not come back out!

The resulting intracranial pressure caused my bipolar manic disorder which is in remission and my aspergers syndrome which gave me the IQ to figure this out!

In the womb ICP causes hypoplasia of the brain specifically in the area of the temporal lobes and hippocampus.

The arrested development of the brain is what we see as Autism!

I had sleep apnea prior to the lifestyle and diet change that changed my life, I started making eye contact shortly after that change.

Sleep Apnea is to an adult as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome is to a new born child!

Adults stop breathing in their sleep and awaken repeatedly and suffer many restless nights, Breathing is an unconscious act. In the case of SIDS, A child does not yet have this unconscious ability to maintain their breathing and they very simply drift away.

Psoriasis: Is the manifestation of hives in people who are not aware that they have an allergy to the petroleum based coal tar food dyes.

There are many other problems that I have linked to these deadly toxic additives.

And I think this is enough for you to handle for right now.

My facebook info page and my notes are all about the toxic additives!

Please read it and share that information with your friends and your loved ones!

Thank you for reading!

Jorma Takala


Has anyone ever considered the SIDS "Back to Sleep" Campaign as a possible cause for at least part of the autism epidemic? I think some of those kids with really delayed motor skills and social skills and are diagnosed with PDD-NOS Autism may actually just be showing a bad reaction to being on their backs for the first 6 to 18 months of life. That's just my two cents.

I did a little research and this what I found in various peer-reviewed medical journals like Pediatrics and JAMA. It's just another point of view.

The BTS Program causes the following in infants who sleep supine compared to infants who sleep in the prone position:
- Social skills delays at 6 months (Dewey, Fleming, et al, 1998)
- Motor skills delays at 6 months (Dewey, Fleming, et al, 1998)
- Supine Sleep causes increased rates of gastroesophageal reflux (GER) (Corvaglia, 2007)
- Below norm AIMS scores (Majnemer, Barr, 2005)
- Milestone delays (Davis, Moon, et al., 1998)
- Increased duration of sleep apnea episodes during REM sleep at both 2.5 months and 5 months (Skadberg, Markestad, 1997)
- 6% decrease in sleep duration (Kahn, Grosswasser, et al.,1993)
- 1 in 300 infants had plagiocephaly in 1974 (Graham, Gomez, et al., 2005)
- 1 in 60 infants had plagiocephaly in 1996 (Graham, Gomez, et al., 2005)
- Possibly as high as 1 in 12 infants as of 2005 (Siatkowski, Fortney, et al., 2005)

Considering the following associations (not implying causality):
- 51% of children with Developmental Speech and Language Disorders have definite to borderline motor problems (Visscher, et al., 2007)
- 10% of children with deformational plagiocephaly have mild to severe mental delay (Kordestani, Patel, et al., 2006)
- 26% of infants with deformational plagiocephaly have mild to severe psychomotor delay (Kordestani, Patel, et al., 2006)

Why does it have to be a vaccine or a drug or an environmental toxin?

Bob R

I have always been puzzled by the assertion that autism is a genetic disorder that has always affected our population at its current rate but is only now being properly diagnosed. How hard would this be to test?

Why not search the health histories of families with autistic children? Do the child's parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc. have any signs or incidence of autism? My unscientific survey has not found a single case of autism in a previous generation in families with profoundly autistic children. But why speculate? Why not perform the research? Sorry, I guess we know why.

Joe Herr

Until the cause of autism can be identified, nothing can be ruled out.

Margaret Bauman (She was mentioned in the Harvard report) reported (At a lecture at the MINDS Institute in California) that a boy with colitis and the habit of hitting his head with his hand recovered from both ailments following removal of huge tonsils and adenoids. Has this been ignored as a trivial piece of information or is it accepted a starting point for investigation?(Removal of tonsils and adenoids is one of the surgical treatments in attempts to treat sleep apnea.)

The main cause of sleep apnea in children seems to include a compromised respiratory system. (Huge tonsils are only one source of a compromised airway.) In some the respiratory compromise alone can cause sleep apnea. One example is "Apnea of immaturity". However, added nasal congestion can induce or exacerbate sleep apnea. {pubmed (Corey j [au] AND apnea)} Premature infants frequently have a compromised airway, and those in intensive care facilities are watched carefully for 72 hours for signs of apnea developing after receiving a vaccination containing pertussis. If they show signs of apnea they are given a shot. {pubmed(Sen [au] AND pertussis)}

Other sources of a compromised airway are a birth defect or limited breast feeding. {google (Palmer, apnea, snort)}

Sleep apnea has been suggested as the cause of reflux, ear infections and irritable bowel syndrome. {pubmed (herr j AND reflux)} (Irritable bowel syndrome is sometimes called non-ulcerative colitis.)

Measles is also a cause of nasal congestion.

Therefore, 1) Vaccinations for either pertussis or measles are a cause of nasal congestion, 2) Nasal congestion can cause sleep apnea, 3) Reflux, ear infection and colitis seem to be caused by sleep apnea and 4) Reflux, ear infection and colitis are associated with regressive autism.

The above information links three of the physical ailments associated with regressive autism to pertussis and measles vaccinations, which is consistent with parental reports that vaccinations seem to cause the problems of regressive autism.

As far genetics goes, bottle feeding runs in families (LeFevre) and breast feeding is difficult with a developmentally disabled child on the scene (Burd).

From my experience with obtaining an obstructive sleep apnea diagnosis I can empathize with the parents who reported their conclusions about vaccinations and autism. I have tried avoid bias, but your problem still is to determine whether or not my work is biased or factual in spite of bias.

(Remember that no oxygen enters the lungs during a complete obstruction. Also remember that the brain is the body's biggest user of oxygen.)

Joe Herr

Julia -Baxter's mom

I was appalled when this arrived in our mailbox. Great job Anne! Please tell me your article was sent directly to Harvard Magazine and the writer herself. !!??

Julia -Baxter's mom

I was appalled when this arrived in our mailbox. Great job Anne! Please tell me your article was sent directly to Harvard Magazine and the writer herself. !!??

Raymond Gallup

I know that Vijendra Singh talked to Andy Shih about funding from Autism Speaks about a year ago for autoimmune research. Andy Shih never had the courtesy of getting back to Vijendra.

Also, I have dealt with Eric London of Autism Speaks and so has the late Bernard Rimland per....
“Garbage science,” brick walls, crossword puzzles,
and mercury

I dealt with Emanuel DiCicco-Bloom of Autism Speaks at the NJ Governor's Council on Autism and he has a closed mind as well. One of the big reasons why I'm no longer involved with that Council because they will never fund any research linking vaccines to autism especially in the immunology area.

A shameful travesty!!!!

Raymond Gallup
[email protected]

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