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Age of Autism Weekly Wrap: When Occupation Is Causation

AofA Red Logo Ayumi YamadaBy Dan Olmsted

Is mainstream science and medicine ever going to recognize the real significance of the repeated clues linking parental occupation and risk of autism? I vote no.

The latest clue came in a study this month from the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, which found thusly, according to Science Daily:

"Children of fathers who are in technical occupations are more likely to have an autism spectrum disorder, according to researchers. Fathers who worked in engineering were two times as likely to have a child with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Those who worked in finance were four times more likely and those who worked in health care occupations were six times more likely to have a child on the autism spectrum. There was no association with a mother's occupation."

And what might account for this? According to a study author, "Parental occupation could be indicative of autistic-like behaviors and preferences and serve as another factor in a clinician's diagnosis of a child with suspected autism. Medical students can be taught that this is one of the things to consider."

I guess that means that perseverative and detail-oriented anti-social types would be drawn to those fields. Of course this does nothing to explain the increase in autism since these parents were kids -- an uptick on the order of twentyfold -- unless you deny the epidemic or buy into the assortative mating argument, since the study found that when both parents were in technical fields, the risk of severe autism was greatest of all.

It makes no sense that fathers, not mothers, would be 100 percent of the risk factor, unless both were in technical fields. I suspect that points to the real clue here -- toxic exposures. The workplace is where engineers, lab workers, chemists get the exposure and bring it home one way or the other. (Finance, I would guess. points to higher income and more medical interventions. And medicine points to, well, a lot of medicine!) Women get it from all kinds of things -- mercury flu shots in pregnancy come to mind -- that directly expose the fetus or infant without needing to be mediated by occupation. That adds enough noise to drown out the occupational clue for moms alone.

The bad faith that defines the mainstream medical response to autism is entirely evident here. You really need to turn away from a well-marked trail of evidence to get lost in these weeds. This is something Mark Blaxill and I have been writing about for years, and at the risk of repeating ourselves, let me marshal the evidence again.

In the 1970s -- closer to the start of autism than to today, and better able to tease out signals -- two complementary studies starkly outlined the risk between parents' exposure to toxins and the risk for autism. I wrote about that at UPI, in a two-part series in 2006 that "highlighted a study by Thomas Felicetti, now executive director of Beechwood Rehabilitation Services in Langhorne, Pa. As Felicetti described it in the journal Milieu Therapy in 1981, he compared the occupations of 20 parents of autistic children, 20 parents of retarded children and 20 parents of "normal" children who were friends and neighbors of those attending the Avalon School in Massachusetts where he taught at the time.

"The results did, in fact, suggest a chemical connection," he wrote. "Eight of the 37 known parents of the autistic children had sustained occupational exposure to chemicals prior to conception. Five were chemists and three worked in related fields. The exposed parents represent 21 percent of the autistic group. This compared to 2.7 percent of the retardation controls and 10 percent of the normal controls. The data, subjected to statistical analysis, demonstrated a chemical connection.

"The results of this study point in the direction of chemical exposure as an etiological factor in the birth of autistic children." [He emphasized that educational level had nothing to do with it. One father of an autistic child was a roof tarrier. That's chemicals, not credentials.]

What makes Felicetti's study, though small, even more compelling is that it was designed to test earlier work by Dr. Mary Coleman, one of his mentors.

In the 1976 book "The Autistic Syndromes," Coleman described her study of 78 autistic children in which she noticed "an unusual exposure of parents to chemicals in the preconception period." Out of 78 autistic kids, 20 were from families with chemical exposure; four were from families where both parents had such exposures -- seven out of eight of those parents as chemists. Still, Coleman worried that because the parents volunteered for the survey they might have been scientifically inclined, skewing the results toward careers like chemistry.

Felicetti effectively confirmed the validity of her finding by selecting the participating parents himself.

Coleman's study has an interesting origin: It was suggested by Bernard Rimland, the pioneering figure whose 1964 book, "Infantile Autism," established that parental behavior was not a cause of autism. In 1974, Coleman recounts, Rimland "and other members of the National Society for Autistic Children approached the Children's Brain Research Clinic of Washington, D.C., to discuss the possibility of the Clinic studying their autistic children at the time of that annual meeting to be held in June."

Those children were the ones on whom the research was based. And a chemical connection was a key finding: "In the preconception history questionnaire filled out by both the father and the mother, there were two areas of marked difference between the parents of the autistic children and parents of the controls," Coleman wrote. "One of these areas was exposure to chemicals."

Coleman wrote that "since the incidence of individuals exposed to chemicals in all related occupations in the United States is 1,059,000 in 91,000,000 or 1.1. percent of the population ... to find that 25 percent of any sample has had chemical exposure is quite startling.

"We feel it can not be dismissed because of the theoretical possibility that chemical toxins could affect genetic material prior to conception. Attempts to identify a particular chemical toxin to which many parents were consistently exposed in our sample failed; the parents recalled exposure to a great multitude and variety of chemical agents with no one chemical or classification of chemicals singled out in the data. Clearly, this is an area where more prospective research is needed."

(The other difference Coleman found in parents of autistic children was "the presence of hypothyroidism in the preconception history.")

And there's more. In the 2002 book "Impact of Hazardous Chemicals on Public Health, Policy, and Service," the authors review those studies and cite another -- an unpublished manuscript by Marcus and Broman: "They found a higher incidence of occupations involving exposure to chemicals among the parents of children with autism."


And the link goes back to the very beginning. As we describe in our book, The Age of Autism -- Mercury, Medicine, and a Man-made Epidemic, we found and identified most of the anonymous 11 children in the first case series report of autism, in 1943. In brief, mercury was everywhere in the family backgrounds, especially the newly commercialized ethyl mercury in pesticides and, alas, vaccines. You could see it clearly in the parents' professions -- forestry professor and plant pathologist and chemist dads; well-baby visit, vaccine-pioneer mom; nurse mom; four psychiatrist dads back when mercury was used to treat a common form of mental illness.

Come on, folks! Ethyl mercury triggered the Age of Autism in the 1930s and the epidemic exploded in 1988 when the mercury load from infant vaccinations rose nearly threefold after the vaccine "court" gave manufacturers tort liability.

It's a simple tale, really. But Leo Kanner, the psychiatrist who described those first cases, missed the "chemical connection" and speculated, as scientists still do, that something about who these perseverative, autisticky parents are -- rather than what they do, and what, thereby, they and their children are exposed to -- causes autism. 

AOA Contributing Editor Julie Obradovic posted on Facebook this week:

"Full circle fact: The original pioneer of the "well-baby" visit...no joke, the actual person behind the reason all of us take our kids in for check-ups every month or so to get measured and vaccinated (no one did that before the 1930's)...Dr. Elizabeth Peabody Trevett...a woman who went on record saying a baby can't be vaccinated "early or often enough" with Thimerosal containing Diphtheria Toxoid...was the mother of Case 7 "Herbert B." of Dr. Leo Kanner's original 11 children ever diagnosed with autism. Let the depth of that "coincidence" and tragedy sink in for a moment. And then read the book: Age of Autism by Dan Olmsted and Mark F. Blaxill. The puzzle was solved years ago."

But the tragedy rolls on.


Dan Olmsted is Editor of Age of Autism.




I just realized too that the old computers did give off I can't remember if it was heavy metals or chemicals (VOCs?). The newer ones might too, but less than the first ones.


CT Teacher,
I agree. I would add the SSRIs and other psych meds. Some of the litigation against Pharma was for inappropriately marketing psych drugs to the elderly that caused dementia.

Maybe. My thought is that financial analysts were exposed for long hours to the old VDT terminals and they wore blackberries and before that beepers, many of them almost 24/7. They also would have been among the earlier adopters of cell phone technology.

cia parker

But in addition to the chemical factors mentioned, I think it's important to consider that people with certain genetic factors which cause them to be unusually good at math and computer programming are in possession of these same genetic factors which predispose them to vaccine damage. My ex-husband is a troubleshooter for a specific computer program used on the stock market. He also has Asperger's syndrome. I always hated math, but have a gift for learning foreign languages quickly and well, and reacted to the DPT at three months old with days of encephalitic screaming and a lifetime of social and verbal impairment from Asperger's. Our daughter, of course, reacted to the hep-B vax at birth with four days and nights of encephalitic screaming and autism. Surely it's not just the career path chosen (financial analysis involves no chemical exposure) but the genetic factors involved which both confer a particular facility which leads to a career path but also predispose to reacting with extreme damage to vaccines. Typing this at a Ramada Inn right now, am looking forward to reading the other comments and catching up when we get home.

CT teacher

I would be willing to bet that most Alzheimer's and other senile dementias are caused by prescription meds rather than the profession of the spouse etc. The meds I indict as huge causative factors in these illnesses are the heart drugs. So many seniors are on blood pressure and cholesterol drugs that it is difficult to find many who aren't taking them. Remember that these only became commonplace in the late 60's and once again they were not extensively studied. Rather, like vaccines, they were assumed to be safe. I have watched family members succumb to dementia and now as a senior, I am watching friends succumb. Our entire so-called health care system is suspect. Synthetic drugs, while they have their place, were not meant to be ingested long term. The human body cannot metabolize them. It is my belief that most illnesses are iatrogenic in nature. Look to mainstream medicine to blame for our poor health.


This article seems to imply that chemical exposure is the only variable. While that simplifies things, it is not very realistic at all. Variation in response to chemicals and ability to handle chemical load is a major factor also, not just exposure.

Why is is a good ignore genetic variability in detoxification? The CDC (although curiously, not the vaccine manufacturers based on the label contraindictions) does the same thing when ignoring familial susceptibility to vaccine injury, so why is it good to do the same thing here?

Basically, the situation is the same since Kanner. Parents who are in the sciences or that spend their time thinking for a living have a higher chance of having autistic kids. This is not a surprise at all by now. One should examine those parents for their medical histories of allergies or autoimmune disease instead of just assuming they work in chemistry labs or somehow become exposed to chemicals. Do blue-collar workers ply their trades in perfectly clean environments? It's the family history, the genetic predisposition to immune system injury that matters.

Eileen Nicole Simon

The brain systems affected by all of autism’s many causes must be the focus of research. Exposures of the mother during pregnancy, oxygen insufficiency at birth, infant treatments, even toxic dust from the father’s shoes, and metabolic diseases like PKU all affect systems of the brain responsible for the characteristics of autism.

Subcortical centers in the auditory pathway and basal ganglia are highly sensitive to toxic exposures or oxygen insufficiency. Impairment of these systems should be (and have been) investigated as the cause of language and repetitive movement disorders (stimming etc.) in autism.

I suggest everyone read three article on errors in neonatology by AF Robertson, which are all free online via PubMed:

Robertson AF. Reflections on errors in neonatology: I. The "Hands-Off" years, 1920 to 1950. J Perinatol. 2003 Jan;23(1):48-55.
Robertson AF. Reflections on errors in neonatology: II. The "Heroic" years, 1950 to 1970. J Perinatol. 2003 Mar;23(2):154-61.
Robertson AF. Reflections on errors in neonatology III. The "experienced" years, 1970 to 2000. J Perinatol. 2003 Apr-May;23(3):240-9.

The following report is also worth trying to obtain:
Robertson AF, Baker JP. Lessons from the past. Semin Fetal Neonatal Med. 2005 Feb;10(1):23-30.

Birgit Calhoun

It is good that a study was done regarding the occupations of parents with autistic children. Dan, your analysis strikes me as valid. My comment relates to the people I have known who have and have had Alzheimer's. In my opinion Alzheimer's is old-age autism, and I think similar toxic processes are at work. The following is what I have noticed quite a while ago: Alzheimer's patients, i.e. all the ones I know and have known (and there are quite a few of them) had husbands or fathers or wives and mothers who had been occupied as chemists, pharmacists, dentists and bankers. For me this realization is striking. For others it would be merely anecdotal. But I wonder if a study on relatives with Alzheimer's has been done that investigates a similar connection as described in your above article.


A study should be performed comparing autism rates in children of female health care workers versus all other females.

Minnesota's female immunization director has a son on the autism spectrum, a la the mind-blind Dr. Elizabeth Peabody Trevett. She has not exactly been a leader in the local autism biomedical treatment community, to say the least.

As per fathers: Shoes often carry dust into the home onto floors where infants roll and toddlers crawl.


Maurine - I have a friend w/2 kids with autism. The boys' maternal grandfather was a nuclear physicist/engineer of some sort. I wonder if nuclear work needs to be added to mercury exposure as an environmental - familial risk factor.

Eileen Nicole Simon

Linda1, thanks for your comment on ibuprofen, and question about whether research data has an expiration date. I like to quote Cicero (106-43 BC) who said, “If no use is made of the labors of past ages, the world must remain always in the infancy of knowledge.”

CT teacher, the human race evolved over billions of millennia without man-made interventions. But over the past 100 years, more and more invasive treatments have been adopted as beneficial. It is time to question everything. Can the medical establishment be counted on to do this??? No!

That’s why I have tried to suggest we need something like the National Transportation Safety Board to investigate autism. Maybe that was the intent of the IACC, but they refuse to discuss any comments or questions submitted by the public. Requiring long-term-care insurance for every child born would involve actuarial scientists.

“Autism” is not important enough yet. I am tired of trying to contact legislators. They all, even President Obama, respond with form letters about “acceptance,”“leveling the playing field” for people with disabilities, and the need for more research...

Nothing else will be acceptable for the militant vaccers

CT teacher,
a Bristol study found a link to childhood leukemia for vit K shots. I just looked up the I gradients and they don't seem so benign.
Eating leafy greens weeks before birth seems like maybe a better idea.

CT teacher

I have always wondered about those vitamin K shots given to newborns. Do we even know what is in them besides synthetic vit K....and what effect they have on newborns? My guess is they probably cause jaundice in many babies. I don't know if these were an issue when your son was born, but nobody seems to be worried about them....not even here at AoA. I'm betting they are not as harmless as believed.

Teresa Conrick

Hi Dan,

I couldn't agree more with your article and this comment you made - "In the 1970s -- closer to the start of autism than to today, and better able to tease out signals."

Dr. Rossignol,Dr. Genuis and Dr. Frye have done a very thorough job looking at some of these studies in a new review:

Environmental toxicants and autism spectrum disorders: a systematic review


"Only three studies examined estimated preconceptional exposures to toxicants in parents, with each reporting a positive association with ASD in offspring; however, all of these studies were retrospective. A total of 16 studies inspected estimated gestational exposures to toxicants and ASD with all but one (94%) reporting a positive association. The toxicant exposures during gestation most commonly associated with ASD included pesticides, solvents, PCBs and air pollutants. Three of the four studies examining estimated pesticide exposures during gestation were prospective, whereas the remainder of the studies examining toxicant exposures during gestation were retrospective, except for two that examined endocrine disruptors19 and methylmercury.21 Twenty-one studies examined estimated childhood exposures to toxicants and ASD with 19 (90%) reporting a positive association."

That's a lot of positive associations. Since we know we are looking at a "spectrum" of affected children, it makes sense that there are factors that cause vulnerability to asd. We know vcaccines are a huge factor but the chemical exposure is the clue. I think the immune system and the microbiome research are leading the way to combine this all into one clear picture


I was talking to a doc the other day, attempting to confirm what I had heard about ibuprofen - that it impairs bone healing. Her response was that ibuprofen impairing bone healing was from older research and that research might be considered too old to be reliable, newer research "might not agree", so the consensus is that we aren't sure. She wasn't saying that the older research was somehow flawed other than that it was old. I came away wondering, does knowledge acquired through research have an expiration date, when we have to start all over again? What a hit to ibuprofen sales if that older research was universally acted upon. Is it that research must be repeated every so many years to make sure that results are friendly to current market conditions?


There may be some chemical exposure, but my immediate thought was, these are highly paid professionals who are "rule followers". There children probably went for every well baby check up and any sniffle because "those are the rules". More chemical exposure, right there in the doctors office.....


Eileen Nicole Simon

Linda, thanks. Tom Insel and I were students at the Boston University School of Medicine at the same time. I began in 1969 in the Medical Sciences Program; he began in 1970 in the MD program. He had completed his 2 undergraduate years of the 6-year BA/MD program. I had returned to school in my 30s. I was angry with all the doctors who told me I should follow the example of other parents who graciously accepted their child’s disability, and “It’s probably genetic like PKU. No one knows much about these things...”

It did not take me long to learn there was plenty known about how the brain is affected by genetic disorders or trauma and asphyxia at birth. The October 1969 issue of the Scientific American arrived in my mailbox at home, and in it was William Windle’s article on asphyxia at birth. I immediately decided to focus on neurological problems rather than genetic metabolic disorders.

Damage of nuclei in the auditory pathway caused by asphyxia at birth was first reported in 1959 (Ranck & Windle, Exp Neurol 1:130), and in 1963 proposed as a possible cause of childhood aphasia (FH Gilles, J Neuropathol Exp Neurol 22:318).

Research on developmental language disorders has been stalled for at least 60 years. Evidence like that reported by Windle is considered too old. The need to provide only new data has led to ridiculous “research” like that on parental occupations. Do any present day autism researchers know anything about the brain???


What a bunch of BULL!!!


There may be some chemical exposure, but my immediate thought was, these are highly paid professionals who are "rule followers". There children probably went for every well baby check up and any sniffle because "those are the rules". More chemical exposure, right there in the doctors office.....


Homefirst Medical Services have more than 35,000 COMPLETELY unvaccinated children, who have COMPLETELY avoided autism.

I"m sure this were plenty of high tech parents in that lot of at least 70,000. Yet not even a single autistic child.

Any study which attempts to imply occupation as causation, is complete and utter nonsense.


I wish you could replace Insel. You are so much more qualified and you would get it done.

Sandy MacInnis

Unfortunately, but perhaps not surprisingly, the press about this study significantly misrepresents what the study actually found. It clearly did NOT find that fathers in technical fields are more likely to have kids with ASD.

This was a poster session at IMFAR. It looks like the press writers confused some odds ratios in the poster with the actual findings. The poster actually says:

"Conclusions: Our data suggests that though fathers with technical occupations are not at a higher risk of having offspring with ASD, technical occupation is associated with higher ASD severity scores after adjusting for confounders. Additionally, the association between technical occupations for mothers was marginally significant, but the true association may not be apparent due to the large percentage of mothers of children with ASD in our sample who did not have formal occupations."

On top of that, this was a small case control study using subjects recruited to a clinic. It is not a random sample and not representative of the population. Many of the results seem odd, but they might not matter due to the small sample and non-representative nature of the sample.

Eileen Nicole Simon

What a surprise!!! My son Conrad was a student at Avalon from the age of 12 until he was discharged to a group home at age 24. More about Conrad and Avalon can be found on the website I setup in Conrad’s memory, conradsimon.org. Conrad died at age 31 from a lethal prescription of Thorazine (500mg 3 times per day).

I think I remember being interviewed by Dr. Felicetti. I majored in chemistry at Barnard College, and worked for two years in research at St. Luke’s Hospital in NYC.

Conrad’s autism was really kernicterus. He suffered trauma and anoxia at birth, then jaundice that was prominent during his first few weeks of life. As a newborn, one of the nurses was showing him off as one of the few babies born with brown eyes. A few weeks later his eyes turned blue, his dark skin lightened, and his hair came in blond.

Conrad’s development was even ahead of schedule, except that he spoke only in fluent “echolalic” phrases. He was not quite 2 years old and could sing the 12 Days of Christmas without missing a stanza. How many people can do that??? But he missed the baby talk stage of language development and referred to himself as “you” (at that time thought due to failure of ego development).

Mercury and other toxic substances affect the same subcortical brain centers damaged by asphyxia at birth. “Autism” has many causes (prenatal rubella infection, prenatal exposure to valproic acid, metabolic disorders like PKU, and in Conrad’s case asphyxia plus bilirubin.

How the brain is affected needs to become the focus of autism’s etiology. Parental exposures and phenotypes are only meaningful if they can be related to how the child’s brain is affected.

Jeannette Bishop

"Attempts to identify a particular chemical toxin to which many parents were consistently exposed in our sample failed; the parents recalled exposure to a great multitude and variety of chemical agents with no one chemical or classification of chemicals singled out in the data."

Was the manufacture of these chemicals considered? I think that might be the level of investigation where some common exposures (or the potential for having common contaminants) will stand out. For instance, when research came out finding a link between vinyl flooring and autism, that was shortly after a post here pointed out that mercury was sometimes used to produce compounds used to produce such flooring (if I understand correctly).

Phthalates were suggested here:

But with all that has been pin-pointed pointed out at Age of Autism, I couldn't help thinking mercury contamination in the flooring should be seriously considered:


"Chlor-alkali chemicals are widely utilized as an ingredient in consumer products as diverse as polyurethane flooring, polyvinyl chloride (PVC), and food additives such as MSG, sodium benzoate, and potassium benzoate."


Didn't know where else to put this but this is a great article on the aids crisis and a suggestion that cancer should be attacked with the same gusto- what about AUTISM? Is it not a crisis yet?



What engineers, finance and health care workers have in common is that many of them work with high tech EMF emitting equipment and in high EMF and wireless (radiation exposure) areas.


This is such a crock! How many of our tax dollars went to fund this junk! This study uses high-school level stereotypes of the personalities of people in certain professions and says that jobs in the medical industry are "non-people oriented." Then they call it 'science'. Ridiculous! http://stumblingalongthespectrum.blogspot.com/2014/05/define-technical-and-non-people.html

Maurine Meleck

My ex was a nuclear engineer and the person who often was sent to any US power plant accident(usually to cover it up)but later turned whistle blower. Our daughter reacted to her first DPT vaccination with a 105 fever and a trip to the ER. Something in me told me never to do another DPT shot and I didn't but had to fight the schools without it. Both her children were later diagnosed with ASD(one is recovered after ending his vaccinations after he was 5 months old) The rest is, shall we say "history."

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