Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Rise in Autism

I have yet to blog about childhood mental health diagnoses, but figured it was time for a post about the all too common and scary Autism and Pervasive disorders. For those that have never heard of Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDD), they are a category in the DSM-IV (diagnostic and statistical manual).  The DSM is a diagnosing book that all psychiatrists, psychologists and counselors use to diagnose mental health and substance abuse disorders.  It is the bible of my profession. And the crazy thing is, back when I was in grad school, PDD was a term not many people had heard of. Flash forward 10 years and now it is a household name.

What are some of the disorders that fall into PDD?

Autism, Rett's, Asperger's and PDD-NOS (pervasive, not otherwise specified- which basically means the child has some of each but not really a full diagnosis yet).

And then there is the term 'spectrum.'  For autism, this means that there are various levels of autism- some children are verbal and can talk, some are non-verbal. Some can function and live on their own as an adult, some can not, etc.  It's where a child falls on a scale, from low functioning to high functioning.

Unless you've been hiding under a rock, you've heard the huge debate about the rise in cases of Autism and Asperger's disorders and what they all mean.  Almost so much that I probably don't even have to give a definition of either one.  But just to clarify, Autism is an impairment of social interactions, decreased interests and restricted/repetitive behaviors.  Aspergers is more of a social impairment disorder and almost like a milder version of Autism.

What is the prevalence of Autism?  The latest CDC data shows that currently 1 in every 100 U.S. children, and 1 in every 58 boys, are being diagnosed with autism. Yikes.  And it is even less for children diagnosed with Aspergers and a spectrum disorder:  1 in 63, and it goes up to 1 in 38 for boys.

It is definitely scary to hear these statistics which has greatly increased in the past 30-40 years.  Here's a statistic I found that sums it up: Since the '70's, there has been a 60-fold increase in American children with autism.

What is causing the rise?

Well, that is the question of the decade.  I've heard theories about vaccines causing the increase to genetic theories to environmental ones.  I think it is a combination of everything- environmental and genetics but also I think that researchers are increasing the definition of Autism and Aspergers and it is causing more kids fall into these categories. When I was a child, a kid that was kind of odd, and had poor social skills was just called an 'odd kid.'  But today, they would be diagnosed with Aspergers Disorder.

But the increase in Autism and PDDs really does make us all question, "what the heck is going on here?"

I came across an article recently on Autism and the PDD's and how it is linked to environmental causes and it has some amazing points in it. So much so, that today at the grocery store I didn't buy any canned goods and made sure everything I bought came in a glass container, including my root beer!

The article, entitled Child Autism Epidemic Firmly Linked to Environment, discusses the theory that genes do play a role, but the environment also plays a role- especially early exposure during pregnancy.

One point that hit home was the fact that children are especially susceptible to the effects of chemicals in the environment because they eat, drink and breathe in more for their body weight than adults. Poor little things are ingesting more than their bodies can handle.

The article also points out the known environmental pollutants that are risks such as methyl mercury (commonly found in fish) ethyl-mercury (previously found in many childhood vaccines as part of a preservative, Thimerosla and currently contained in many flu vaccines although there are thimerosal free ones available), lead (in paints), PCBs (in plastics such as baby bottles and food storage containers) and arsenic (in the air) that can all affect development of the brain.

But new evidence is also showing that other chemicals such as Bisphenol A, (the protective inner lining in tin cans and baby bottles) PBDEs, pesticides, phthalates and airborne pollutants are all associated with intellectual deficits and PDD's in children.

The author (Stephen Barrie) of the article has a theory that environmental factors are interacting along WITH genes which is contributing to the causation of autism.  Here are his tips for avoiding these pollutants for pregnant women and newborn/infant exposures:

Toxic Exposure Avoidance Tips for All of Us -- And Especially For Pregnant Women. Start taking them, right now:

  1. Avoid eating foods that may contain high levels of toxic chemicals

  2. While fish are a good source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids, some contain high levels of mercury. Tuna (especially white or albacore), Cod and Mahi Mahi are ones to avoid. Wild salmon is a good healthy choice. See americanpregnancy.org for an excellent chart showing levels of mercury in the most commonly ingested fish.

  3. Consume organic foods and drinks as much as possible.

  4. Use glass containers instead of plastic to store left over foods and drinks.

  5. Reduce our purchase of foods in cans as the can lining contains high levels of Bisphenol A (an endocrine disrupter linked to increased rates of cancer and abnormal behavior in children).

  6. Limit exposure to toxic household chemicals, pesticides and cleaning supplies. Look for natural alternatives.

  7. Install HEPA and carbon filter air purifiers in bedrooms to insure a healthy toxin free nights rest.

It sure makes it hard to ignore the fast growing statistics out there about PDDs and you wonder if it's in the water!  I know we had chemicals around when we were all kids, but we definitely did not have as many- which is probably why I am now suffering from allergies as an adult- which is a whole other quandry!

What are your thoughts on Austism and the other PDD's??


  1. This is definitely scary to read. I think there are a lot more chemicals out there than say even 10 years ago. What about the whole genetically altered foods (GAF's) you keep reading about. That is why I try to buy organic as much as possible but it's annoying how expensive the food is! It's crazy how a long time ago, poor people were skin and bones but now they are obese because it's cheaper to eat fast food than a good healthy organic meal. Somethins gotta change.

  2. This is an AWESOME post! I had no idea about canned food. I served canned food at almost every meal whether it be canned beans or veggies so I will definitely work on serving frozen veggies and dried beans instead!

  3. I know, it's so scary, and I LOVE the convenience of canned black beans..I'm kind of lazy and don't want to make my own but I better get used to it :)

  4. I hear ya. I don't understand why the foods that are supposed to be good for us are the most expensive. There are definitely more pesticides in foods than there were 10, 30 years ago. Very scary.

  5. I love the fact that as you are exploring the topic of Autism, you are looking at the whole picture of what is around us on a daily basis. As a health coach, I have seen changes in kids in when the whole picture of food, environment etc. and even schedules is explored.
    A great new book that I recently read on this topic was The Autism Revolution: Whole Body Strategies for Making Life All It Can Be by Dr. Herbert.

  6. Thanks so much for the book reference! It sounds very interesting and great information.