Thursday, August 27, 2009

Clinic Notes: Mercury and Autism

Many parents who bring their children with autism to my clinic tell me that their child was developing normally and they thought everything was fine, and then, sometime between the age of 2 and 3 their child began to loose words and regress. The only thing the parents can recall that was different was that the regression happened after the vaccinations that are normally given at that time the regression occurred. Mercury is a heavy metal that is toxic and many people think, that this must be the cause of autism. But if this is true why don't all children get autism? Ok maybe some children are able to metabolize the mercury and other children cannot. But then why did the rates of autism not fall when the mercury was taken out of the vaccine? Furthermore, why are the autism rates the same in vaccinated and non-vaccinated children in countries that do not require vaccinations?
Now at this point I am not ready to clear mercury as a potential cause of autism. A recent study involving more than 6000 women found blood mercury levels rising in American women. This is not surprising. Mercury is increasing in our environment. The number of coal plants that produce electricity are increasing, and a recent survey found that a quarter of the fish found in US streams and lakes have unsafe levels of mercury. (This at a time when health experts are touting fish as a brain food and telling us to increase our consumption of fish.) I also hear that mercury pollution from Chinese coal plants ends up in California soil and is re-released into the air during the fire season. Mercury levels in women accumulate as they age and could affect the fetus. Older mothers are more likely to have a child with autism.) At this point, more research on mercury in the environment and its relation to autism needs to be done.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Clinic Notes: What's Money Got to Do With It??

As socioeconomic status (SES) increases the likelihood of being diagnosed with a serious psychiatric disorder decreases. I can remember when anxiety disorders were reserved for the upper SES and psychosis for the lower SES. And I can recall when autism was rare and studies said it was more common in families with a high SES. As the number of children diagnosed with autism increased more and more children in lower SES were diagnosed with autism. Now a new study In Wisconsin finds that as a families SES increases so does the prevalence of autism. The researchers point out that the differences in their study may be accounted for by differences between the two groups in terms of access to services. I think that without question access to services is the key here as it is everywhere else. Almost everyday I hear about a child in a low SES area that likely has autism, but has not been diagnosed and is not receiving services. Or if they are school age and receiving services it is the same as the other special ed kids--no ABA, no speech, no OT, no pediatric neurologist. Higher SES families either with insurance or private pay are able to get their children services. I have former students who are providing ABA to families in Nashville who are in the country music industry and high SES. Some of these former students are making six figures working with one child and providing intensive ABA. Now I wonder who is going to loose a their autism diagnosis. Money has a lot to do with it.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Clinic Notes: New Autism Rates

As I have mentioned in previous blogs, when I first started practicing nearly 40 years ago I never saw a case of autism. Now children with autism make up nearly 80% of my practice. And according to a new survey by the US Department of Health and Human Services the rates are going up again. Now the autism rates are at 1%. In other words, the odds of a child being diagnosed with autism now are 1 in 63. The new rates still find more boys with autism than girls. But the new stats show something even more interesting. A large number of children diagnosed with autism, over 30%, will loose their diagnosis. Interesting because for years we have been telling parents that autism was a lifelong disorder.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Clinic Notes: Should You Tell a Child That He or She has Autism or Asperger'

This is a question that parents frequently ask in my clinic. And most everyone agrees that it is a good idea to tell the child. Many children on the spectrum already know they are different and if they know their diagnosis then they understand why they are different and they are usually relieved and will accept therapy. And the consensus is that they should be told early.
When I tell parents this they tell me that they are afraid that when a child learns of their diagnosis it will lower, maybe even destroy their self-esteem. Actually though, the child's self-esteem seems to improve because they have their diagnosis to blame for their problems which they see separately from themselves.
At what age a child is told varies and how much you tell a child also varies. Most experts recommend the earlier the better and all the information about their diagnosis should not be given at one time. There are books available to help parents plan their approach. Just Google this blog's title.