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Autism Rates Continue To Rise

Autism_BlocksBy Deirdre Imus, January 2019
new study released in December suggests that rates of autism, which have been increasing for nearly two decades, are rising still. According to research published in the journal Pediatrics, one in 40 children – or 2.5 percent of all kids between the ages of 3 and 17 – has an autism spectrum disorder. This new estimate is based on a survey conducted of parents across the country, many of whom also reported difficulties accessing adequate care for these children. 

Such disheartening statistics continue to beg the question of why more than one million kids in the U.S. receive an autism diagnosis, which further begs the question of what might be done to stop it.  Some people will tell you nothing can be done, while others will cite all kinds of reasons for this growing epidemic. One thing we can say for certain is that exposure to toxins in the environment, both before and after birth, increases the odds a child will receive an autism diagnosis.

What do we mean when we say environmental toxins? It’s a vague term that includes air pollution from cars and trucks but also from the spraying of pesticides.  It means living in a home with lead-based paint, working in a profession where you are routinely exposed to heavy metals, or using products laden with endocrine disrupting chemicals. It can mean one of these exposures one time, or a few of these exposures many times.

Science has slowly been drawing direct links between environmental toxins and autism. Research published in late 2018 linked exposure to even low levels of air pollution in utero and after birth to the development of an autism spectrum disorder. Another study out last year observed that the pesticide and well-known poison DDT, which was banned in the 1970s, persists in our ecosystem and could be contributing to a rise in the incidences of autism in the U.S.

Earlier research going back decades has also suggested that the neurotoxins aluminum and mercury (in the form of the preservative thimerosal) have also contributed to rising rates of autism, due in part to their presence in vaccines. Aluminum is an adjuvant that stimulates the body’s immune response, but it has also been linked to muscle pain, chronic fatigue and cognitive dysfunction, as well as autoimmune/inflammatory syndrome induced by adjuvants, better known as ASIA, a condition to which children are especially vulnerable.

As for mercury, research from as recently as 2016 linked thimerosal exposure to ASD and also to tic disorder, attention deficit disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Another recent study showed that when the U.S. significantly decreased (but did not entirely remove!) the amount of thimerosal in childhood vaccines in the late 1990s through the early 2000s, autism risk decreased too.

Aside from aluminum and mercury, the term heavy metals also refers to toxins such as lead, arsenic, cadmium, and cobalt. Exposure to these or other chemicals has been linked to low IQ, poor language skills, and impaired motor development in kids, among other health problems in people of all ages.  Heavy metals are found in air, water, paint, food, food containers, pesticides, vaccines, and other seemingly safe places that we take for granted.

Endocrine disruptors pervade our world and, unfortunately, our bodies. They are nearly impossible to avoid, and yet it is essential that we do. According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, endocrine disruptors are both natural and manmade, and can produce adverse developmental, reproductive, and immune effects in humans. These substances are found in pharmaceuticals, plasticizers (such as bisphenol-A or BPA, and substitute chemicals such as BPS), and in everyday products such as plastic bottles, metal food cans, food, toys, and cosmetics.

How high do autism rates have to climb before something, anything is done to try to reverse this trend? There is only so much we can do individually; the change must come from the top. It is not merely the still unanswered question of mercury in vaccines, but all of the other components (aluminum, formaldehyde, human fetal tissue) that are regularly injected into tiny babies and growing children.

It has never been more important to be vigilant about chemical exposures, whether you’re pregnant or parenting small, vulnerable children. There’s no guarantee that trying to protect yourself and your kids from these toxins will help avoid an autism diagnosis, but it certainly can’t hurt, and may help prevent other common health problems along the way, such as heart disease and cancer.

Deeper exploration and brutal honesty about the effects of these powerful poisons on our bodies and our children is overdue, and desperately needed. Until then, I’ll keep fighting and bringing these issues to light. Will you?

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