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New Focus on Environmental Factors in Autism

 

 

 

The Autism Society of America (ASA) launches magazine special edition and new web based campaign focusing on the role environmental toxins play in the illness.

For far too long now, research funding and effort has concentrated on genetic aspects of autism. The general feeling in the medical community has been that the condition is entirely predetermined by a child's genes before birth and there's nothing that can be done about it medically. Over the years however, considerable evidence has accumulated pointing at various environmental factors that seem to play a role in autism.

The Autism Society of America has launched a special edition of their magazine the Autism Advocate and launched a new environmental health section on their website to help highlight the environmental links to autism and raise awareness of them.

The new campaign is the first-ever effort to bring leading scientists, doctors, therapists, families and individuals with autism together to examine the linkages between environmental health and autism. The campaign will provide a platform for all individuals affected by autism, from individuals, to carers, to doctors and researchers, to share information regarding environmental factors and further understanding of the role they play and hopefully apply this in effective medical treatments.

The new Environmental Health section of the ASA website states that the campaign's mission is:

"To improve the lives of individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) by fostering an understanding of environmental contributors to the onset and severity of neurodevelopmental disabilities and other health issues."

The ASA says that the face of autism is changing and that the old view of autism as an "incurable, hard-wired genetic brain disorder" is out of date and not helpful to anybody. They go on to state that what is now needed is a more inclusive view of autism as a set of treatable, whole-body illnesses that have environmental contributors.

This shifting view of autism has occurred to various pieces of evidence. For example, the rate at which autism is diagnosed continues to rise steeply, a fact that genetic susceptibility alone cannot explain and suggesting that environmental triggers are also involved. It is now also recognized that abnormalities in autism are not limited to the brain, but affect the whole body, particularly involving immune and gastrointestinal symptoms. Further, some children have recovered from the illness which suggests that autism can in fact be treated successfully.

Dr. Martha Herbert, member of ASA's Panel of Professional Advisors, a Pediatric Neurologist and Assistant Professor at Harvard Medical School, explains further: "We're saying, yes, autism is biological, but more than genetic...it's more than the brain, it's the whole body, and it's a chronic illness." Dr. Herbert goes on to state "Autism is not simply wired in before you are born," and that "When you include environment, lots of things in autism make more sense." Dr. Herbert and her team have shown abnormal changes that happen in the brains of those with autism after birth. It is now apparent that large numbers of children with autism have various forms of gastrointestinal disease, and/or dysfunctional immune systems. "The gut and immune systems are the body's gateways to the environment, and they are also very connected to the brain," states Dr. Herbert.

The ASA hopes that by bringing these factors out into the open, autism will be recognized as a condition with treatable medical features. Current treatments focus mostly on behavior and social interaction therapies. ASA President and CEO Lee Grossman has said "For too long, parents receive the diagnosis of autism and are told there is nothing that can be done medically. As the evidence presented by these publications shows, children with autism present with medical symptoms that can be treated, which may then improve their abilities to learn, live and maximize their potential."

The broader aims of this initiative include policy and legislative aims as well as advancing the understanding of autism with regards to environmental toxins. It is hoped the campaign will lead to legislation that will better protect those with autism, and children in general, from harmful toxins.

Since The Environmental Illness Resource was founded it has focused on the potential environmental causes of autism and other illnesses. This move by the Autism Society of America is a fantastic step in the right direction. An organization of such size and influence is perfectly placed to bring these important issues to a wider audience and accelerate the adoption of diagnostic tools and therapies for autism targeted at environmental factors and the consequential biological abnormalities such as gut and immunological dysfunction.

The ASA also states that it hopes to work with other groups to address the links between environmental exposures and health problems involving neurological, immunological and gastrointestinal disorders. As well as initiating grassroots efforts to raise awareness of environmental illnesses as a whole. This is an extremely welcome stance and a goal that The Environmental Illness Resource shares wholeheartedly.

The ASA campaign effort is part of a broader project funded in part by a grant from the John Merck Fund. ASA's project is overseen by an Advisory Board on Environmental Health, who is undertaking a "campaign of influence" for early 2007 which will build a grassroots community to continue research and awareness of the effect of environmental influences on autism.

Visit the Autism Society of America's environmental health website at http://www.autism-society.org/environmental_health.

Learn more about autism and environmental triggers on our own autism page.


 

 

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