The number of children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is on the rise. In 1991 the reported incidence was 1 in 500. By 2002 the number rose to 1 in 150. Today, the number is 1 in 68.
All of us are rightfully concerned – and young parents are even fearful. Medical professionals discuss these increases and wonder whether it is the result of more misdiagnoses or over diagnoses.
Perhaps the situation is even graver.
What if the number of actual cases of autism is actually on the rise? Instead of debating whether doctors are better at detecting autism or if they just missed a lot of cases in the past, perhaps medical professionals should be seriously look at whether something is triggering more cases today than in 2002 or 1991 – rather than turning a blind eye to all of the factors and looking only at symptoms.
A recent report1 states, “The science stacks up in favor of catching and treating ASD earlier because it leads to better outcomes.” Dr. Laura Schreibman, who directs the Autism Intervention Research Program at the University of California, San Diego embodies the perspective of most experts when she says, “Psychologists need to advise parents that the ‘wait-and-see’ approach is not appropriate when ASD is expected. Delaying a diagnosis can mean giving up significant gains of intervention that have been demonstrated before age six.” Please note that intervention often includes the use of highly potent drugs along with regular follow-up visits with family doctors and specialists.
Treatment may be reasonable if the child actually has autism – though I have strong feelings that many cases are improperly treated with powerful stimulant drugs, which can also be addicting. They work, and work quickly. What teachers, doctors, and some parents see is a rapid reduction in what they believe is inappropriate behavior. But, what if the child is acting poorly because of a chemical imbalance or an allergic or inflammatory reaction? Research shows repeatedly that people – children too – can experience severe behavioral reactions to their diet or environment. If the poor behavior is caused by a reaction to a trigger does it make any sense to haul out the drugs when removing the trigger would stop the behavior? I don’t think so, but it seems I’m in a small minority.
The first article referenced in my post today says, “There is a universal push to screen for ASD at as young an age as possible and growing confidence that the early signs are clear and convincing. Dr. Jose Cordero, the founding director of the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities conveys this fervor.” Dr. Cordero is quoted as stating, “For healthcare providers, we have a message that’s pretty direct about ASD. And the message is: The 4-year-old with autism was once a 3-year-old with autism, which was once a 2-year-old with autism.”
On the surface this statement seems logical – when the causes of the disorder are unknown. Underneath, though, the question remains whether the increased number of autism cases should just be treated or if we should be searching for cures and prevention. Already mentioned was research that shows how some children with autism were helped to behave normally when certain dietary triggers were removed.
The same thinking should lead us to search for other triggers – even ones that could have impacted a child before birth. Boys with autism were three times more likely to have been exposed to antidepressants known as SSRIs (Relexa, Lexapro, Paxil, Prozac and Zoloft) in the womb than typically developing children, according to new research.2
Is it possible that other drugs and inflammatory substances could also be part of the cause of autism?
Instead of merely assuming the worst – that the incidence of autism is on the rise and will probably continue that way – the true health professional should be seriously attentive to cures and prevention instead of merely treating symptoms.
I hate the thought, but it seems clear, medicine in the 21st Century seems bent on diagnosing problems that need to be treated – usually with drugs – for the duration of a person’s life. It’s as if the person was made incorrectly, made to be dysfunctional. While that can surely be the case for small numbers, the fact that the numbers are skyrocketing suggests that we might be doing it ourselves – to our children.