The death of Jett Travolta has focused new attention on an old truth -- the benign-sounding "developmental delay," the catchall term for children who are slow to meet their milestones, can be deadly. My hunch is that this is especially true when the "delay" is environmentally induced, as is the case, I believe, with autism. That's why it doesn't matter exactly what diagnosis was assigned to Jett's disorder; its onset followed a febrile illness that seems to have caused brain damage; his parents believe it was connected to toxic exposure. And parents know their children.
My basic approach to trying to understand autism, as many of you know, has been to go back to the beginning and trace what's called the natural history of the disorder -- where it began, how it increased, where it's prevalent and where it's rare (see my article Mercury Rising on our home page). The beginning of the Age of Autism, though most mainstream autism "experts" would rather ignore it, was in the 1930s in the United States, when a number of children were born with a disorder that the dean of child psychiatry, Leo Kanner, said was "markedly and uniquely different from anything described so far."
He said that in the very first paragraph of his 1943 report on 11 of those children. Thus, for those with eyes to see, the truth has been evident from the first: Autism was NEW. And it was new because it was environmentally triggered -- I believe by the commercialization of ethyl mercury used for the first time in fungicides and vaccines.
This may sound way too simple, but as my colleague at Age of Autism Mark Blaxill has pointed out, once you understand them, epidemics are simple. All this mucking around in genes that soaks up billions of dollars -- now that is complex. And the more complex we make autism, the more money there is to be made in hunting endlessly for the cause, and the more delay, so to speak, there is in facing the truth and helping sick kids. Meanwhile, they're not just suffering, they're dying.
All this is by way of saying that the simple truth is visible in that first report by Leo Kanner in 1943. And one of those truths is this: Autism can kill you. Two of the first 11 children -- 18 percent -- had seizures, and one of them died prematurely as a result.
Let's look closely at Case 10, whom Kanner called John F. In his description, Kanner wrote: "In December, 1942, and January, 1943, he had two series of predominantly right-sided convulsions, with conjugate deviation of eyes to the right and transient paresis of the right arm. Neurological observation showed no abnormalities. His eyegrounds were normal. An electroencephalogram indicated 'focal disturbance in the left occipital region,' but 'a good part of the record could not be read because of the continuous marked artifacts due to the child's lack of cooperation.'"
In 1971, Kanner wrote a follow-up on his historic account of the first 11 cases, and the tale of John F. turned tragic. "John died suddenly in 1966 at 29 years of age."
Mark Blaxill and I have been identifying those first cases, and we met with John's brother last year. The seizures, it turned out, were much worse than Kanner conveyed. John had seizures just about every day of his life, including "drop seizures." His brother described the sound of John dropping and hitting the floor in the next room and the havoc that wrought on the emotional life of his family and especially his mother. He is absolutely convinced his brother, who died in his sleep, was killed by one last seizure.
Mark and I are writing a book in which we will detail this case and several others, but believe me, mercury exposure is written all over them.
For now, I just want to make a simple point: Environmentally induced developmental disorders kill kids. We've known it from day one. And just exactly what are we doing to stop it?
Dan Olmsted is Editor of Age of Autism.