By Julie Obradovic
Maybe I'm crazy. Maybe you're crazy. This week a new study published in the Journal of Pediatrics (HERE) says if you're the parent of an autistic child, there's a good chance you are.
The large scale population study done in Sweden attempts to conclusively link psychiatric conditions in parents with an increased risk for Autism in their children. Other studies on a smaller scale have suggested the link in the past.
My immediate reaction to the result was one of extreme anger. I'm not sure why this one made me so mad, whether it was the last straw on a pile of stupid studies being done to ultimately blame my child's Autism on my husband and I (you know, old dads and too much television), or the implication that when all is said and done, I am simply more likely to be insane (it's only the mom's, by the way). As a friend suggested, this is why it's good I don't have a gun in the house.
After calming down, I sat down to pick it apart. My intention was to do so page by page, discrediting it and putting it behind me like the other studies. I grabbed my highlighter, my calculator, and got to work.
Initially I found some interesting things. For starters, the study took place in Sweden and was partially funded by the CDC. It's fascinating to me that the CDC can support an investigation into this issue (psychotic parents having psychotic kids), but not support a vaccinated versus unvaccinated study. How insulting.
Moreover, less than 10% of the participants in the study were of non-Nordic descent, and yet, the parents found to have a significant psychiatric condition and a child with Autism were from Africa and Asia. Any chance those sample sizes just weren't big enough?
Then there's the fact that 6 of the mothers in the study were diagnosed themselves as having Autism (classified as Autistic Disorder, Asperger's Syndrome or PDD-NOS), but NONE of the father's were. Even better, 5 of those 6 Autistic mothers did NOT go on to have a child with Autism. Considering that 77% of the children identified as having Autism are BOYS, and that the point of this study is to establish the link that Autism is genetic; doesn't that seem a bit odd?
I mean, truly, if there is no epidemic and the rate of Autism has stayed consistent throughout history, although now we're just better at diagnosing it AND it's genetic, how is it possible that only 6 parents in the entire study aged 47-76 had the diagnosis (all moms and all clinically evaluated for psychiatric conditions including Autism), versus the 1227 children aged 0-32 who do? How is that at all consistent?
If the answer is that people with Autism don't usually marry and have children, then how is it being passed on genetically? And how come more Autistic mothers in the study had NON-autistic children? And how come there are zero Autistic fathers anywhere? It can’t be better diagnosis because these parents were specifically studied because they HAVE a psychiatric diagnosis…and it ain't Autism. What the hell?
The explanation is provided by the authors: The parents have "Autism Light" (my term). In their words, they possess "…(a) familial predisposition, perhaps genetic, that presents differently in the parent than in the child..." They have "...Personality traits similar to, but not as severe as, the defining features of Autism..."
Aaaahhh, now I get it. I AM Autistic, just barely.
More frustrating, the study claims to re-establish the significant link between old father's and Autism. Again, none of the father's in this study has Autism and less than 1% of the 1227 of them with an Autistic child were over the age of 50 when their children were born.
Right there we know the world is not being populated by a bunch of older (autistic) dads, and that even if there is a link between them and their offspring developing Autism, it is only that they are more likely to have a child with Autism and not that there are more of them having children. There aren't more old dads. There simply seems to be a greater likelihood that older dads will have Autistic children than younger dads. Big difference.
Lastly, the point of the study was to look at the prevalence rate of psychiatric diagnoses (including drug and alcohol abuse) among parents who have children with Autism to see if there is a link between the two. The authors considered the timing and classification of the parental diagnosis, determining whether or not they had a psychiatric diagnosis prior to or after their child's birth and prior to or after their child's Autism diagnosis. And surprisingly, they did factor in the likelihood of a parent having depression or something else after an Autism diagnosis (how thoughtful of them).
Still, they were able to determine that predominantly among African and Asian parents, moms of Autistic children were more likely to be schizophrenic and/or depressed, and dads were more likely to just be depressed. They were able to do this even though exactly 50% of the moms and 42% of the dads did not receive any psychiatric diagnosis until AFTER their baby was born.
You put all this together and the conclusion of the authors is this data supports evidence that "....parental psychiatric diagnoses in the aggregate were associated with a twofold increased risk of Autism among the children."
Well, all of the above concerns are just observational on my part. It's shocking to me that a study looking into the genetics of Autism, examining over 15,000 men and their children specifically for psychiatric diagnoses including Autism, finds not one father with the diagnosis himself but 944 of their boys (representing 77% of the children) who do… and it raises no red flags.
But red flags are not enough to make a real claim that the study is in anyway invalid. I'm just a mom who struggled miserably with statistics in college, and frankly, I have no expertise what-so-ever where they are concerned. Which made me stop and think...?
What if it's true?
In spite of all the concerns I identified, what if there really is a link between moms with schizophrenia being more likely to have children with Autism? What would that mean? What do we know about schizophrenia that would cross-over into Autism? Do they share similar pathologies? Are there established scientific evidence implicating metals or viruses or bacteria playing a role?
Something I read years ago about mercury and schizophrenia reminded me there is, so I started looking. With the help of some pretty knowledgeable people, I was able to uncover some startling commonalities.
Turns out people with schizophrenia have evidence of lower glutathione levels, mitochondrial dysfunction, oxidative stress, pre-natal infection, increased incidence of skin infections, cytokine imbalances, activated glial cells, elevated levels of heavy metals, central nervous system infections, and viruses such as herpes and mumps. Click on the condition for the link to the study.
I'm sure with extensive research there's more to add. The point is, here we have a psychiatric disorder with established links to heavy metals, viruses, bacteria, immune deficiency, mitochondrial dysfunction, and inflammation among women who are two times more likely to have children with a psychiatric disorder with established links to heavy metals, viruses, bacteria, immune deficiency, mitochondrial dysfunction, and inflammation.
In either disorder, no gene has been found to wrap up the cause into a nice little package. This means more likely than not something external is causing an internal train wreck resulting in behaviors that look psychiatric in nature but actually have biological causes in genetically susceptible people. This is precisely what we parents have been saying for years.
And it is precisely what the authors themselves conclude when they state, "Specific genes that might contribute to the complex constellation of factors leading to Autism or other psychiatric disorders have yet to be confirmed....the etiology of Autism is complex and likely involves multiple genes in combination with external factors. This allows for the possibility that Autism and other psychiatric disorders result from some common genes, possibly varying in expression and in combination with other factors."
Well, well, well. Turns out I'm not so crazy after all.
Too bad the American public just won’t hear that.
Julie Obradovic is a High School Spanish Teacher in the suburbs of Chicago where she lives with her husband and 3 beautiful children, one of whom is recovered from Autism. She is a member of the NAA, a Rescue Angel, and founder of the Southwest Suburban Biomedical Support Group. Last year she threw the First Annual Evening for ACE, a benefit that raised several thousand dollars for the Autism Center for Enlightenment, Dr. Anju Usman's not-for-profit organization.