Thursday, September 10, 2009

Clinic Notes: Autism as a Systemic Disease

As I mentioned in a previous blog, a pediatrician, who's two year old had just been diagnosed with autism, contacted me. She had taken her child to the gastroenterology department at the hospital where she worked and the doctors there told her that autism was a gastric disorder. She went to the immunology department and they told her that autism was an immune deficiency disorder. In the neurology department she was told that autism was a neurological disorder. What is autism she asked me exasperated? I told her that autism is a neurological disorder although some children with autism have gastric and/or immune problems. Mark Hyman, MD now says that our current thinking about autism is all-wrong and autism is a systemic disorder that affects the brain. According to his theory a "toxic environment" triggers genes that cause frequent infections, gut problems, and finally neurological problems that cause the faulty wiring that causes the behavior abnormalities seen in autism. While this is an interesting theory I don't see it in my practice. Usually, I see between 35-40 kids on the autism spectrum each week. Some of these kids are frequently sick and have obvious immune problems. But others are never sick. Some have digestive disorders. Others do not. Some have a positive history of autism in the family while others do not. All have neurological disorders that underlie the symptomatic disorders of autism, which also vary. So what kind of systemic disease causes such variable problems? Are their different types of autism? Different etiologies? I don't see it.

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