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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Autism denial a.k.a "The world gave my kid Autism!!!"

I hope everyone's month has been pretty good.  I also hope you survived the zombie/giant chocolate rabbit celebration and no one ended up in jail due to a lack of foresight of the consequences during April Fools Day. This article is going to be long, mostly because there are a lot of points that need to be addressed and I tried to get to them all.  And if you could, please leave a comment.  This would at least let me know that people are actually taking an interest in what I'm  doing.  It doesn't have to be anything deep or meaningful.  even a Hi would do.  Or a G'Day mate from the several Aussie readers out there.

This item was brought to my attention recently by a concerned person, and they asked me to look into it.  The title of the article is "I gave my son Autism" and as best I can tell, it actually wasn't written by Jenny McCarthy.  The entire article is found here .  The website that it's on, Thinking Mom's Revolution, seems to be an autism activism website.  Among this groups "resources" are:
The National Vaccine Information Center-  Reads like an anti-vaccers website, complete with the Vaccine Freedom Wall and the Vaccine Victim Memorial
Natural News Radio-  First article on the wall as of 4-1-2013 is about the lies spread by the CDC
They have quite a list, and they all read about the same, and I'm not going to try and list them all here.  Vaccines kill or permanently injure, the government lies, doctors are just in it to make money, etc...  You can find the entire list here.  They also have an ad with a blurb from Jenny McCarthy that states "The most amazing, inspiring, ball busting, loving bloggers out there.  You chicks rock.  Love you."  You know with a commendation like that, the research and fact finding has to be top notch.  I'm not saying that all the authors lean to alternative medicine and conspiracy theories, but, it does seem that the majority of them do.  The members all seem to have one of three things in common.  1) They have multiple children, all of whom have various health issues. 2) Stated to have strong christian beliefs. or 3) Believe that their children can overcome or "shed" their diagnosis of autism.  Some have all three, others only 1 or 2, with a couple of exceptions.  But these factors seem to tie the majority of members together.  I'm not going to go any farther into the website, mostly because I like to keep my blood pressure below the burst blood vessels stage.

Before I go into the blog post, I'm going to take a moment to discuss autism.  According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control) "Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are a group of developmental disabilities that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges."  According to the NIH (National Institute of Health) :

Autism is a group of developmental brain disorders, collectively called autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The term "spectrum" refers to the wide range of symptoms, skills, and levels of impairment, or disability, that children with ASD can have. Some children are mildly impaired by their symptoms, but others are severely disabled.
ASD is diagnosed according to guidelines listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition - Text Revision (DSM-IV-TR).1 The manual currently defines five disorders, sometimes called pervasive developmental disorders (PDDs), as ASD:
  • Autistic disorder (classic autism)
  • Asperger's disorder (Asperger syndrome)
  • Pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS)
  • Rett's disorder (Rett syndrome)
  • Childhood disintegrative disorder (CDD).

The causes of autism are believed to be partly genetic and environmental.  It is a very complex issue, with no definite answers.  There are strong genetic links to autism, but it also turns up in families with no history of the disorder, which implies a random mutation.  It could also be that some environmental factors could trigger the symptoms in one person, and an entirely different set of circumstances impact another.  This is the part of scientific research that causes most people the most problems.  Science has to say "I don't know" when it doesn't know.  We can research and begin to rule out possible causes, and then we're left with the most probable.  A lot of the anti vaccine crowd often touts (former)Dr. Andrew Wakefield and his 1998 paper claiming that the MMR vaccine causes autism.  This paper has been ripped apart, debunked, and basically called a bogus piece of shit.  Wakefield, who had developed his own vaccine and was trying to market it, did a very poorly conducted study with just 12 kids.  It was later found that he either tweaked or misinterpreted the data for his own ends.  Wikipedia and CNN.com both have fairly good write-ups on the issue.  He has since been banned from practicing medicine, and he has launched several lawsuits for defamation.  When putting his name into Google, I did find numerous pages supporting him, namely ones like naturalnews.com, drwakefieldjusticefund.org, and mercola.com, just to start with.  Natural News scores about a 9 on the Skeptical Woo Scale (SWS, trademark pending), and Mercola is a "natural health" website, and the justice fund is self explanatory.  Considering the number of studies looking to find a link between vaccines and autism, very, very few have ever found a correlation between them.  Thimerosal, a preservative used in some vaccines, has been the main culprit that has been blamed.  It has been phased out of most vaccines in this country since 1999.
Some people also claim certain foods are to blame, such as aspartame, caffeine, or GM crops.  Once again, no single thing has been proven to be the main cause.
And now to talk about what started all this.  On the Thinking Mom's Revolution site, they have a blogger who goes by Mountain Momma, and she wrote an article in 2005 called "How I gave my son autism."  She starts the article with stating she was raised Catholic.  Through all of this, keep in mind that this is a religious group that guilt is inherent to their beliefs.  She states "..idea of forgiveness is still critical to how I walk through life."  She initially places all the blame for her son having autism on herself and choices she made while pregnant, but it quickly devolves into trying to find a scapegoat so she doesn't have to take all her perceived blame on her own shoulders.  She does list the ways she gave her son autism, and we're going to go through them.  So go and grab a sandwich and a beer or 3, you might need it. (If you don't drink the third one, send it my way.  I need it after digging through all of this.  I did enjoy doing the research, but there were times that I felt like face palming myself with a baseball bat.)  
1) Ultrasounds- Mountain Momma (from now will be M.M., so I don't wear out the m key) says that she had 5 ultrasounds during her pregnancy.  She claims that there is an implication that ultrasounds cause autism.  Her link in the article leads to the ICPA website.  This is the International Chiropratic Pediatric Association, and in the header of their page, my Skepdar (once again, trademark pending) went off as soon as I saw the word "wellness".  I looked through the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, and I found 1 article immediately that said that ultrasounds were not likely to cause the disorder, but I couldn't find any definitive studies.  You can read the article here.  
2) High Fructose Corn Syrup- M.M. says she drank Coca Cola (no, that wasn't product placement, I get no money from Big Soda) every day during pregnancy.   The link she has to Livestrong.com, claims that Coca Cola has 62 ppT (that's parts per trillion).  The reference from here leads back to her other link, which is the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.  They claim to have tested 55 products and found mercury in  about 1/3 of them.  The links on their page are dead though and just take you back to their home page.  I couldn't find much of anything concerning this.  Not from the USDA, the FDA, or any reliable sources on the web.
3) Lortab/Acetaminophen- M.M. claims her O.B. gave her Lortab for fibermyalgia.  She says that it is a Category C drug, and even though she couldn't find any specific links, common sense should have dictated that this wasn't good.  I was unaware of the categories, so I went to Wikipedia and found this:
United States FDA Pharmaceutical Pregnancy Categories
Pregnancy Category AAdequate and well-controlled human studies have failed to demonstrate a risk to the fetus in the first trimester of pregnancy (and there is no evidence of risk in later trimesters).
Pregnancy Category BAnimal reproduction studies have failed to demonstrate a risk to the fetus and there are no adequate and well-controlled studies in pregnant women OR Animal studies have shown an adverse effect, but adequate and well-controlled studies in pregnant women have failed to demonstrate a risk to the fetus in any trimester.
Pregnancy Category CAnimal reproduction studies have shown an adverse effect on the fetus and there are no adequate and well-controlled studies in humans, but potential benefits may warrant use of the drug in pregnant women despite potential risks.
Pregnancy Category DThere is positive evidence of human fetal risk based on adverse reaction data from investigational or marketing experience or studies in humans, but potential benefits may warrant use of the drug in pregnant women despite potential risks.
Pregnancy Category XStudies in animals or humans have demonstrated fetal abnormalities and/or there is positive evidence of human fetal risk based on adverse reaction data from investigational or marketing experience, and the risks involved in use of the drug in pregnant women clearly outweigh potential benefits.
Pregnancy Category NFDA has not classified this drug.


Cat. C drugs are basically used if the benefits outweigh the risks.  Her wording implies that she was specifically looking for links between autism and Lortab.  This is trying to prove an idea by bending the research to fit (Andrew Wakefield comes to mind.)  

4) Pitocin- M.M. states that during an ultrasound, it was revealed that her water was getting low, so they decided to induce labor.  After several hours, the hospital encouraged her to sign a waiver allowing them to increase the level to "illegal" levels.  As far as I could find, there are no waivers that allow any hospital to exceed the legal limit of any form of medication.  The link she provides here once again leads to the ICPA website.  for those that don't know, pitocin is used to induce labor, and is a synthetic form of oxytocin.  (When I Googled pitocin, a lot of the first articles that popped up were from sites such as natural child birth and natural news.)

5) C-section-M.M. had to have an emergency c-section instead of the natural child birth that she had been hoping for.  She states that "Because I had made the bad decisions about the ultrasounds that led to the bad decision about the Pitocin that led to labor trauma, I ultimately had to have an emergency C-section"   Basically, she is blaming her previous medical procedures for the necessity of a c-sections rather than complications that do occur during labor.  She links to an article by George Malcolm Morley, who claims that using a clamp during a c-section is 4 times more likely to result in autism or Cerebral Palsy.  In reading the article, which appears to have used primates in the study (and yet M.M. doesn't trust Lortab because not enough human tests have been done?  Can you say cognitive dissonance?), he also mentions that "for every 100 women that get a bachelors degree, just 73 men earn one"  He starts this line with the fact more women are going to college, and at the end, seems to blame it on autism.  He has quite a few articles on the effects of cord clamping, and they all appear to look negatively on the procedure.  I also found an interesting comment on http://pediatrics.aappublications.org, the website for Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.  You can read it here.  Basically, he doesn't like their methodology because is doesn't look like his, and they came to the conclusion that clamping more than likely has very little effect on the development of autism.  In the article that M.M. uses, Dr. Morley states "Dozens of studies correlate infant iron deficiency anemia with low IQ"  He doesn't list any.  even though M.m. uses this to show that her c-section is yet another cause of her sons autism, the author never states that c-sections are a factor. Instead, his career seems to be based on cord clamping causing all types of neurological disorders.

6) Antibiotics- First, I have to say DERP!  M.M. says her son was exposed to antibiotics while in distress during labor, then through her breast milk, and then 5 times for chronic ear infections before he was a year old.  Then at his 6 month check up, he got his vaccinations and a prescription for Amoxicillian.  She says this turned his bowel movements watery and acidic enough to flay the hide off of his bottom and he developed an upper respiratory infection.  He also received a single dose of Augmentin, which she has a link for.  This link leads to PRWeb, which seems to be a general news page.  The day I looked at it, in the science section, there was a glowing review of an astrologer.  Not an astronomer.  That should give you a hint right there.  I found a couple of legitimate articles that state that there is little to no link between autism and antibiotics.  I also found many articles, mostly of the ilk I've already mentioned like natural news and prevent autism, that claim there is.  Personally, I'll lean towards the peer reviewed, blinded results over a correlation-causation argument.

7) Vaccines- You knew this one was going to make an appearance, didn't you.  M.M. informs the readers that she has Fibromyalgia, and that autoimmune disease and digestive disorders (Celiac Disease?) are on both sides of the childs family.  Her son had jaundice, cephalohematoma ( hemorrhage of blood between the skull and the periosteum of a newborn baby, caused by a prolonged second stage of labor), rashes, severe reflux, chronic rhinitis(  inflammation of the mucous membrane of the nose ), ear infections, and eczema.  At this point, she has left her pediatrician, and found a new one that informs her that with all of his problems, her son should never have been vaccinated.  Granted, some people are incapable of receiving vaccinations, usually because they are allergic to one or more of the ingredients or if they are severely imunocompromised.  The link she provides here takes you to the Adventures in Autism website, which sounds like a horrible Disney ride.  The top of the article says "I will just start archiving studies that support the vaccine/autism link."  This website basically cherry picks the data it wants that supports its views.  M.M., at the time that she wrote it says that they have over 60 studies that prove a link.  She doesn't mention the hundreds that show no definitive link between autism and vaccinations.  M.M.'s article was written a bit before Wakefield was discredited and he lost his license to practice medicine.

8) Acetaminaphen/Paracetamol  M.M. calls this "red, liquid death".  She says that it shuts down the body's production of gluthione, the "#1 antioxidant"  Looking up gluthione, one of the first articles I saw was by video by Dr. Oz.  Of course there was a number of articles from Natural News and Mercola, and strangely enough, a lot of ads from supplement companies.  There were some articles from WebMD warning about possible side effects.  If you Google the term "#1 antioxidant", you get a lot of very differnt results, ranging from coffee and blueberries to smoothie recipes.

9) Fluoride-  We almost forgot this one. Apparently, vaccines and fluoride cause almost every terrible disease that "main stream" scientists haven't figures out the exact cause or cure for.  In her blog post M.M. uses the phrase "One of the biggest scams ever perpetuated on a population in the history of mankind"  She has 2 links in the paragraph, one links to SLWeb.org, which is an anti-fluoride group, and the other one is for earthclinic.com.  I couldn't look at this one, because it was either down for maintenance or configured incorrectly.  It's been like this for more than a month.  She says that the fluoride in the water she was buying for her son can bind to the aluminum in the vaccines and transport it through the entire body.  She claims it is more toxic than lead, and slightly less toxic than arsenic.  This depends on it's formulation.  She also says that it can cross the blood brain barrier, but everything I can find from actual medical websites is that, aside from being part of the plasma in your blood to begin with, the barrier is thought to reduce the transfer.  I can't find anything that shows a link between autism and fluoride.  At least anything that doesn't come from Natural news, Mercola, and other quack sites.

10) Everything else on the planet-  She finishes her article saying that diet, toxic cookware (teflon, copper, aluminum, stainless steel? Or is she using a cyanide/uranium based cookware?), benzocaine teething gel, and toxic building materials are all to blame for her childs autism.  (Munchausens?)  She says that she is at fault, yet somehow manages to place the blame on the medical community, big business, and everyone else.  She never acknowledges that autism may be caused by a genetic condition.  I don't think that she is to blame for her sons condition.  It can happen to anyone.  What I do have a problem with is her trying to find blame on everything around her.  I know this is a grief response and she is trying to find some answers, but she is basically lashing out at anyone or anything she thinks may be responsible for her sons autism.

Then I went through the comments.  A lot of the people tell her that she's is a brave woman for finding the truth about the cause of her sons autism, and that telling everyone is a noble thing to do.  One of the people said she should try Neurological Reorganization.  This is a hypothesis (to use the proper term) which basically says that mental handicaps may be caused by a missing learned motor skill.  Basically, a developmentally challenged child may be that way because they learned to walk before they crawled.  So the answer is to have them go back through various exercises that recreate learning these skills to cure, or to use the new alt med buzz word, shed their condition.  As far as I can find, this has never been proven to be accurate.  (I personally walked before I crawled, and I'm relatively normal) Another person writing in the comments suggests using a juicer or weed (yeah, lets give marijuana to a little kid.  Or were they suggesting it for M.M.?).  And yet another one suggested a strict plant based healing diet.  There were a lot of people offering support to the author, and her views on autism and her thoughts on the causes.  Any person that suggested that the medical community wasn't at fault, or suggested reputable, peer reviewed research was viciously attacked and told to open their eyes to the truth.

It's stories like these, and the people that propagate the ideas behind them that make me glad we have people like Tim Farley and his "What's the Harm" website, as well as the people behind the "Jenny McCarthy Bodycount".  When people are scared or upset that their child has a condition, and they want to know why, they often become upset when science has to say  "We don't know." and turn to mysticism or alternative medicine because it will provide an answer.  It may be chi, chakra, problems in a past life, humours are no longer aligned, Pluto is in the wrong house, whatever.  Making up reasons is what quack medicine does best.   Just remember that when some of the anti-vaccers say  that "X" causes autism, true science has yet to determine what the exact cause is, though a large number of things have been ruled out.  Until a true cause has been found, everything else is pure speculation.  In this regard, they are very similar to conspiracy theorists, and quite often have the same beliefs.

I know this was a long one, and thanks for sticking through it until the end. Until next time, Be Good, Be Thoughtful, and have fun.

The Skeptical Okie