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Losing My Religion

Autism’s Environmental Component: New Research Upends Scientific Orthodoxy Strangling Autism Progress

Bill-BernardBy Sallie Bernard, President, SafeMinds

New research has just come out which will hopefully drive a stake into a scientific theory that has strangled scientific progress in autism. The theory – that autism’s cause is almost entirely genetic – hasn’t matched the evidence for decades and has undermined promising avenues to prevention and effective treatments.

My son with autism is a happy young adult with a big engaging personality. But his left hand is permanently swollen and scarred. He bites his hand when he gets anxious,occasionally so hard that it bleeds.  Sometimes we know what triggers the panic attacks. Often we have no idea. They simply arise within, from his biology. In very anxious episodes he may pound his head and cry, “my head hurts.” His gift of autism comes with a heavy price.

Bill was diagnosed with autism in 1992 when he was four and a half years old. After developing normally for 2 1/2 years, he regressed into a severe condition marked by loss of speech and motor skills, behavior dysregulation and altered sensory and mood states that finally became what is called autism.

A few years after his diagnosis, the scientific theory that autism was all genetic—inherited from family members due to rare gene mutations—emerged as a way to explain the mystery of autism. At the time, this view was a step forward from the previous theory of autism as an outcome of bad parenting. At least it attempted to view autism as biologically based rather than psychosocial, and many parent advocates became believers.

Read the full post at the Safeminds site.


John Stone

Hi Sallie

Interesting commentary. I came into this about three years later than you did. By that stage there were still a few psychobabble "refrigerator mother" theorists operating within the UK National Health Sevice although the general view was pretty much against and that it was a neurological condition. This was certainly the view of people like Rutter, Frith, Baron-Cohen, Wing (one or two others whose books I read at the time). It would be curious (although also rather dreary) to get them all together again but what I don't particularly remember from the historical phase was a hard view that it was genetically determined. What I do remember is confusion at dealing with a regressive condition which they had failed to describe.

The odd thing was that it was surely subsequent to this that orthodoxy tended to harden in the direction of genes just as the contrary evidence that the condition was spinning out of control in the population was becoming grossly apparent. By the witching year of 1998 the UK's National Autistic Society were working hard to make out that a 1% figure was the norm although these cases have never come to light in the older adult population (still haven't):


I also recall as late as 2005 Rutter - who was the UK's top paediatric psychiatrist - bluffing his way on the issue after his involvement in the highly flawed Honda paper. My letters about this can still be found in BMJ Rapid Responses:

"Further bemusement at Sir Michael's role: vagueness and certainty

"It is not very clear exactly what expertise Sir Michael Rutter brought to the Japanese study. To recap:

""He told the Eye that as he was not an immunologist he could not comment on the suggestion that giving three separate vaccines a short time apart was the same as administering the MMR triple vaccine. But he added that although it was unfortunate that there was little relevant material published on any possible interference between vaccine components, immunologists whom he had consulted doubted that this was a significant issue". [1]

"On the other hand he also seems remarkably non-commital about other possible causes and scale of the problem:

""Prof Rutter said that one good thing that had come out of Dr Wakefield's controversial 1998 paper that raised the MMR alarm, which he believed should not have been published in that form in the Lancet, was that it triggered much useful autism research.

""Some experts convinced of a real rise in autism across the developed world - rather than as many still maintain, better diagnosis and detection - were now looking for an unknown environmental trigger that might interact with an unknown genetic risk. He said that while the MMR could fit that environmental profile, he claimed his and other researchers work showed it did not fit the pattern."[1]

"So we are faced with the curiosity that as of 2005 Professor Sir Michael Rutter is still uncertain whether there is an autism epidemic or not, vague about the causes if there is, but convinced if there is - without having personally examined the science - that MMR is not implicated.

"You wonder:

"Whether he has sufficient scientific grounds for taking sides?

"Why - as the leading member of child psychiatric profession in the UK for the last three decades - he did not start to take urgent action in the late 1980s to find out what might be going awry, and why even now all these years later it does not seem of greater urgency?

"Why, apart from the MMR issue, researchers were looking for "an unknown environmental trigger" rather than [a] very obviously known one like mercury?

"[1] MMR, The link effect, Private Eye No 1129, 1-15 April 2005, p.27."


It never, of course, made any sense.

 Bob Moffitt

Sallie .. you have been a hero of mine .. along with the other courageous moms mentioned in David Kirby's classic "Evidence of Harm" book .. which I first read so many years ago .. when my lovable grandson .. now fourteen .. "regressed" and was diagnosed "autistic".

Unfortunately .. I think you are being too kind to the "government and scientific community" when you write:

"By ignoring the environmental component to autism, the government and scientific community have made a massive strategic error, wasting enormous amounts of money and time in mostly fruitless genetics-only research that has not helped us stop new cases of autism or helped people living with severe autism"

In my opinion .. it is no accident the government and scientific community has "ignored" the environmental component to autism .. in fact .. I believe the "massive strategic error .. to "waste enormous amounts of money and time .. in mostly fruitless genetics-only research" .. was a deliberate .. highly successful effort .. to protect industries and federal regulatory bureaucracies .. such as .. among many others .. toxins capable of mutating genes in vaccines .. from being scientifically LINKED to CAUSING autism.

The most recent example of "ignoring" the environmental component to autism was the refusal to grant research funds to Dr. Mary Catherine DeSoto .. which more than likely was based solely on the basis that Dr. DeSoto wanted to use new "spectroscopy instrumentation" for the purpose of quantifying environmental toxins to measure toxic levels in the environment.

From my extremely limited knowledge on the subject .. "spectroscopy instrumentation" is an enormous leap of science .. that allows researchers to view toxic impurities that were completely invisible to researchers .. such as .. pig viruses found in both rotovirus vaccines .. using the old technology it replaced.

Who knows what the new technology will uncover .. so .. why would they take the chance on allowing it?

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