Is the autism epidemic an illusion?

Here Are Some of the Key Questions

Is it true that the ongoing upsurge in autism cases in the youngest birth cohorts is merely an illusion? Is it true that autism is strictly a genetic problem? Could it be, as some say, that the evident upsurge in the diagnosis—see for instance, the remarkable growth curve documented at Thoughtful House—is owed to a broadening definition? Or a tendency to change the diagnosis of various disorders to autism? Or just better awareness by the doctors and the public? Can autism rationally be regarded as merely a special form of giftedness as some have claimed? Are parents merely following funding sources as suggested by Dr. Eric Fombonne? Or does the combination of these factors result in the illusion of an epidemic as argued by Gernsbacher, Dawson, and Goldsmith (2005)? On the other hand, see Newschaffer et al. (2005) as well as Newschaffer (2006) who argue that the epidemic is not illusory.

This Post

In this post, the common arguments suggesting that the autism epidemic is illusory are examined critically in light of the book Autism: The Diagnosis, Treatment, and Etiology of the Undeniable Epidemic published in 2010 and the extensive research reported there. (See the cover at the upper right on this page.)

Let’s take the arguments one by one and then consider all of them together as a possible explanation for the accelerating upsurge in the number of children being diagnosed with autism.

Strictly a Genetic Problem?

First, is it true, or is it even possible, that autism could strictly be a genetic problem?

Among parents consulting with medical professionals on this question, it is common knowledge (and a well documented fact) that doctors often tell them that the problem is either strictly genetic, or that it cannot possibly have anything to do with the sorts of toxins and disease agents children are getting through an increasing number of vaccinations along with the continuing use of neurotoxic chemicals such as mercury in dental amalgam and in the manufacture of vaccines.

Meanwhile, the same medical professionals will point to ongoing research to find the elusive genetic causes of autism. Some will naively refer to the search for “the autism gene”—along the lines of the touted discovery of “the stuttering gene.” But logically the proposed genetic explanation of the autism “mystery” falls short. It is like sweeping the problem under the carpet, or like Scarlet O’Hara’s decision to postpone thinking about the vanishing life now Gone with the Wind. She said, “I’ll think about that tomorrow.” Logically speaking, however, the genetic explanation of the autism epidemic comes up short of its intended goal: we must ask what is causing the genetic damage in the parents, or grandparents, that might result in autism in the child?

Given the fact that genetic damage can be caused by the same toxins, disease agents, and interactions that the mainstream medical professionals swear cannot possibly cause autism in any individual—namely, toxins such as mercury, aluminum, formaldahyde, and so forth, not to mention the disease agents, monkey viruses, pig viruses, and other animal protein fragments, etc. in vaccines—the toxicology research shows that the strict genetic explanation for autism is a nonstarter. That dog, as President Bill Clinton might have said, won’t hunt.

There must be some combination of factors beyond the child’s genetic inheritance to explain autism. Also, current research shows that DNA throughout the body, including mitochondrial DNA which is so critical to the efficacy of our immune systems and communications throughout all of our biochemical systems, can be dramatically disrupted by a neurotoxin such as mercury vapor, for example, in parts per billion. So, the “it’s all genetics” theory of autism fails.

Don’t They Keep Expanding the Definition?

Next, there is the theory that the apparent epidemic may be attributed in large measure to the broadening of the definition of autism, e.g., to include Asperger’s syndrome. However, a careful examination of the literature and the current empirical record of studies trying to refine the definition of autism show that the definition has hardly changed since 1943. It was then that Leo Kanner diagnosed the first 11 cases in the United States. A year later, Hans Asperger reported on a milder form of autism that now appears to be a syndrome indistinguishable by the best measures available, according to recent work by Ritvo and colleagues 2008, from what is termed “high functioning autism.”

It must be noted that in 1994, the year when the definition of autism was officially changed to incorporate Asperger’s syndrome, the accelerating growth in the upsurge of autism diagnoses did not show a sudden spike, but, rather the same steady acceleration as was occurring for a least a decade beforehand and that has continued smoothly even to the present day. (Again readers are referred to the best current data being kept at Thoughtful House.)

So, the supposed broadening of the definition of autism, something which has not actually happened according to a careful reading of the diagnostic literature and something that is inconsistent with the smooth growth curve we are witnessing, fails as an explanation for the evident epidemic.

What About Public Awareness and Better Diagnosis?

Next there is the theory that autism is merely being noticed more frequently and in ever increasing numbers. The research, as documented in the most recently published of my three books coauthored with Dr. Stephen D. Oller (two of them with the Dr. Linda C. Badon also as third coauthor), shows that the majority of cases being diagnosed involve younger and younger children with symptoms that could hardly have been overlooked in the past. As Dr. Jay Gordon, a pediatrician and professor at UCLA Medical Center said recently in the Foreword to one of Jenny McCarthy’s blockbusters: “I know that I am not 400% to 800% smarter than I was years ago” (McCarthy, 2008, p. xvii). If doctors were just getting better and better at spotting autism, the upsurging number of diagnoses, a value that has grown by thousands of percentage points from before 1970, would imply that diagnosticians have become more capable than they used to be. That seems unlikely to Dr. Gordon. There must be something else.

Besides, if it were true that autism cases, ones that have always been there, were just being noticed more frequently, the newly diagnosed cases should be distributed evenly across the age range (from birth to old age) throughout the whole world’s population. But that is not what we find. The vast majority of the cases being diagnosed are under 18 years of age, Dr. Tom Insel, Director of the National Institute of Mental Health estimates 80%, and as we can see from the data at Thoughtful House, the proportion of children being diagnosed is also trending higher in younger birth cohorts. Something is happening to the younger cohorts to produce the observed differences.

On top of all that, the empirical evidence defies the notion that the illusion of an autism epidemic is being produced by greater public attention. In fact, it makes a lot more sense to suppose that the reverse is true. The reason we are seeing and hearing more about cases of autism, in the news, in the movies, at school, etc., is because there are more cases occurring. It seems that everyone I talk to tells me they have a child, nephew, or grandchild on the spectrum. Could it be that there is greater public awareness because there are thousands, tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands more cases? You gotta wonder… Are the naysayers thinking things through, at all?

To add to the difficulty of defending the notion that better diagnosis can explain the illusion of an epidemic, there is the small inconsistency in the fact that increasing public awareness, better educated practitioners, and improvements in the diagnosis ought to reveal more valid cases of autism only if there really are more cases. Contradicting this reasonable expectation, however, folks who promote the idea that better awareness of what autism is is producing the illusion of an epidemic of it, also tend to accept the notion that many of the new cases of autism involve merely substituting (falsely) one disorder, say, mental retardation or Down syndrome, for what is now being called “autism.” The trouble with the latter idea is that keener awareness of what autism is ought to sharpen the boundaries across distinct disorders rather than blurring it. Better educated diagnosticians ought to give better, more reliable and more valid diagnoses. Again, those who deny the growing epidemic come to an inherent contradiction in their own argument.

Then There Are the Edgy Theories

What about the fringe theories proposed by some that autism is really just a form of giftedness, or alternatively, that parents are just seeking out someone to provide a diagnosis of autism so they can get more money from insurance companies and health care providers? The giftedness theory, sometimes advocated by articulate moms such as Dr. Morton Gernsbacher, has a certain appeal in view of the true life stories back of the Rain Man movie, Mozart and the Whale, and astonishing feats of intellect by the likes of Stephen Wiltshire. You must see the video where he is able to draw a view of Rome in minute detail after a brief ride in a helicopter. Who can deny that it is a good thing to look to the highest and best capabilities in every person and to help them develop and augment their strengths? We all agree in that much.

But, are parents ever inclined to seek a diagnosis of autism for monetary gain? Or, is autism in general a form of giftedness? Setting aside the fact that the meager money available from insurance companies, never mind government health plans, falls far short of the needs faced by families trying to cope with severe autism 24/7,  is it true that “autistic savants” are gifted above their non-autistic peers?

The research suggests that savants are, in fact, a little below par even in the areas of their special gifts with respect to performances that can be evaluated by standardized observational procedures. The gifted mathematicians who display amazing abilities in producing a string of very long prime numbers may actually perform below average on ordinary tasks of computation. This is not to deny the amazing minds of persons such as John Forbes Nash, nor of any human being. But consider his remarks in the interview linked to his name, describing the nature, in his case, of his tendency to mistake imagined events for real ones as well as the dissatisfaction that made him wish to be even wiser and more important than he was. Also, keep in mind that until 1979, in keeping with the position originally taken by Kanner, autism was considered to be a form of childhood schizophrenia and the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders was, up to that time, known by the title: Journal of Autism and Childhood Schizophrenia.

In any case, to try to make autism out to be a form of giftedness when it commonly involves full-blown life-threatening seizures, inability to speak, extreme difficulties in forming and sustaining normal social connections, and, for a substantial majority of persons on the spectrum, loss of the hope of an independent livelihood later in life, stretches the limits of reason.

Is it not amazing that the same people who sometimes accuse the parents of children being diagnosed with autism alternately of being “refrigerator mothers” (a theory that goes back to none other than Leo Kanner; see the documentation in J. W. Oller and S. D. Oller, 2010) or of being desperate enough to try anything to cure their child can turn around, blink twice, and then suppose that ordinary, intelligent parents would choose the autism diagnosis in order to get federal or other money to treat it. Would it make any less sense to surmise that the increase in the current host of epidemic diseases such as childhood multiple sclerosis, diabetes, asthma, allergies, and so forth is being caused by the prospect of universal health care?

It seems clear to me that such theoreticians are not actually hearing the conversations going on around them. Have they not read or heard Jenny McCarthy’s story about her little boy Evan? Do they know nothing of the exquisite documentation of Ethan Kurtz’s case provided by his father? Does the testimony of the dentist who removed the amalgam from Ethan’s mother’s teeth mean nothing? What world are they living in that they can miss all the evidence that is so plain to anyone who will just have a look?

The Epidemic Is Undeniable

All three of the books pictured at the top of this page have dealt increasingly with the growing autism epidemic. You can read about those books on my web page, or view a Youtube video about why we developed them.  I have written another post at our publisher’s web site about why we focused on autism in particular in our third book. In that instance, we began by examining all of the arguments denying an epidemic. We examined the research in the hopes that the epidemic would turn out to be an illusion. No one wanted to find that the epidemic is real. However, after examining all of the arguments in the light of reasonable theory and the best available data, we concluded as noted in our title that the epidemic of autism is undeniable.

Our method, as we have stressed with all of our interlocutors on all sides of the complex issues at stake— readers, colleagues, students, collaborators, and even with those who sometimes have been extreme in their support of what we now know to be mainly propaganda produced by deeply vested interests with astronomical liabilities at stake—was and is to research,  research, research, and re-examine the research some more.

You can see a review of our work at the Age of Autism web site by Anne Dachel. Also see remarks by Dr. Mayer Eisenstein, M. D. about vaccine research coming to the fore and Ray Gallup on the numbers of persons being diagnosed.

The bottom line is that the autism epidemic is real. It continues to grow at an increasing rate. No one wanted this outcome, but those who are the most adamant in denying the facts that are staring them in the face, are the stake-holders with vested interests. They are typically agents working in or benefiting from the industries and professions that are undoubtedly contributing to the problem. They include our own government watchdog agencies, the Centers for Disease Control, the Food and Drug Administration, the pharmaceutical manufacturers and promoters of vaccines, the professional medical organizations that those manufacturers underwrite, and, believe it or not, the U. S. Congress…. All I can say is God help us. You have to read the book documenting the undeniable epidemic and showing why it is occurring.

All the while, the mainstream authorities are swearing that although they know nothing about the mystery of autism, they are sure it has nothing to do with the  toxins they themselves have placed in the bodies of human adults and children. The Director of the CDC, Dr. Julie Gerberding, for instance, said in an interview with Sanjay Gupta, that she was sure that the toxins, disease agents, and interactions between them that are invariably being introduced into the living tissues of younger and younger persons in an ever increasing number of vaccines have nothing to do with causing autism. According to her, the CDC researchers have looked and looked without finding anything.

Meanwhile the Toxicology Results Are Clear

While government watchdog agencies acknowledge that a tiny amount of mercury in your hand or spilled in your home or office is a dangerous hazardous waste, they hold that the form found in dental amalgam, the kind put into the mouths of 100 million Americans by dentists according to the American Dental Association’s current web site, is safe. They say, “. . . the mercury in amalgam combines with other metals to render it stable and safe for use in filling teeth” but the research with the amalgam used in human teeth and the scientific toxicology shows that claim to be plainly false.

Similarly, the CDC, through its many meetings of the Institute of Medicine, has now exonerated the ethyl mercury in many vaccines and flu shots. They say it never was harmful. Yes, they admit that back in 1996, 1999, they waffled a little and thought that mercury in bloodstreams and bodily cells might be harmful, but now they know that the good old CDC did no harm. The pediatricians who gave the shots and the dentists who placed all that amalgam… All can breathe easy.

Yet years of toxicology research and thousands of studies show their claims about the safety of injecting such toxins (never mind the other toxins, disease agents and adventitious  accompanying components such as pig and money viruses and aprotein fragments, many of which are only now coming to light) to be false. There are also, within the key groups at the CDC and in the watchdog agencies, a few courageous dissenters who are objecting, as we document in our autism book. Would to God there were thousands of them with the courage and good sense to examine the research with the intensity and tenacity of Andy Wakefield. Many of the toxicology studies documented in our book, to which Dr. Wakefield contributed a Foreword, have been conducted with human subjects. It was known from the earliest research with humans that ethyl mercury was biochemically active and lethal in extremely dilute concentrations. We now know that parts per million can kill and parts per billion interfere with normal biochemistry and immunity in particular. In fact, the chemist who patented the widely used thimerosal, Morris Selig Kharasch is also credited with inaugurating organic chemistry and introducing the idea of free radicals and the peculiar non-additive damage they do in biochemistry.

The Sinister Side of Vaccine Research

The question that must be addressed as soon as the epidemic is admitted to be what it is, an epidemic, is what is causing it. We know what the main causal factors are from the toxicology research and the dark history of vaccines, a story that until recently has been shrouded in obscure medical jargon, pretentious claims of persons and entities with large vested interests, and of wolves sometimes dressed in the white frocks of medicine. If ever there was an area of study prone to secrecy, deception, and disinformation on account of its nefarious and evil objectives, this is it.

The research that is just now coming into the public view, it turns out on closer inspection, has an occult side that merges in the murky waters of political propaganda with the clandestine and largely forbidden research on biological and chemical weapons of war. For this reason, as noted by  Dr. Kantjan Alibekov [also known as Kenneth Alibek], a former high-ranking Russian bioweapons expert, peaceful research on vaccines cannot be sharply separated from devious work to build chemical and biological weapons. But that is a story for a later post.

The short answer to the question posed in this one is that the autism epidemic is real.


About johnwollerjrontheautismepidemic

As a research professor with 16 peer-reviewed books and more than 230 peer-reviewed articles ranging across disciplines I deal with the most abstract, comprehensive, and consistent theory as well as empirical studies of language and communication. This blog is about the autism epidemic. My goal is to improve the diagnosis, treatment, and understanding of communication disorders in general as well as related disorders, disease conditions, and injuries. Causal factors in autism are also involved in many other disorders. By understanding how such factors impact biological control systems from DNA to the unique human language capacity, many former mysteries will also be solved. I do and have worked with researchers around the world and with various organizations including the Autism Society of Acadiana, the Sertoma Club of Lafayette, and Sertoma International. Any errors on this site are my own. I aim to avoid "expert opinions" in favor of sound theory and research. "Experts" are, by definition, merely persons whose opinions differ from those of other "experts." My aim is to pursue the facts, not mere opinions.
This entry was posted in autism epidemic, causation of autism, disease agents as factors in autism, etiology of autism, interactions of toxins and disease agens, toxins as factors in autism and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Is the autism epidemic an illusion?

  1. Pingback: Uncovering International Intrigue Behind the Autism “Mystery”: The Sinister Side of Vaccine Research | The Autism Epidemic and Related Issues

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