Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Post about Autism

I've been mulling this post over in my head for the last couple of weeks and decided today to write it.

Autism is talked about a lot these days. More and more children are diagnosed with it and sometimes it seems that researchers are no closer to figuring out what causes it than when they discovered it. And at the risk of getting a little too personal, I grew up with it in the family, and I witnessed first hand how frustrating and heartbreaking it can be. And it's still frustrating and heart breaking. It's not something that magically goes away when you turn 18, and in a lot of ways, it's even worse to deal with it as an adult.

I am thankful for families with autism that there is so much more understanding, acceptance, resources, and support now. I hear how much progress children can make with the proper therapy and attention, and it really makes me wonder where my brother would be today if he had been born in 2000 instead of the early 80's. And this is in no way an attack on my family or anyone's family that grew up with this- nobody was equipped or knowledgeable enough to deal with this in the 80's and we all did the best we could.

I'm not gonna lie, this has been something that weighs heavily on my mind. I've been preparing myself mentally for this even while I was pregnant, that we're going to go into a pediatrician appointment and the A-word is going to be brought up. Steve is always wonderfully reassuring about it- he assures me that there are a million worse things to have, that it's not going to be the same in any means as what I grew up with, and that we would have the time and resources to dedicate to helping our child thrive. I know he's right and I know it's silly to worry about a problem that doesn't even yet exist for us (and it may not even ever be an issue), but it's still in the back of my mind.

I have my own suspicions about what causes autism. I'll make the very obvious disclaimer and say that I'm not a doctor, I never went to medical school, and I am far from an expert on this. But I have my gut feelings and I apparently am not alone in these suspicions. I will also say that I am 1000% in the camp of thinking that vaccines have absolutely nothing to do with autism. That has been disproved a million ways to Sunday and I think it's downright negligent not to protect your child from the diseases that we have vaccines for.

Regardless of what actually causes autism (and I don't necessarily think it's just one thing), I think that there is a genetic vulnerability, and then something triggers it. My strongest suspicions are:

1) Pesticides and harmful chemicals
2) Food preservatives/dyes
3) Television

TV?? Really?? Well, yes. Again, I'm not a scientist and I'm not a doctor, but I'm not alone in thinking there might be a link. It's something that the use of has increased significantly over the last couple of decades, it's something that goes across economic and racial lines, and it's something that has already been linked to the increase in ADHD. And quite frankly, seeing infant DVDs like Baby Einstein and other similar products becoming a multimillion dollar industry, and hearing countless moms brag about how they can plop their infant down in front of them for 30 minutes to an hour a day so they can "get stuff done"...well, it terrifies me. Also...autism is apparently virtually nonexistent in the Amish community. Coincidence? Maybe.

I sent the links below to my mom last week after we had a conversation about it, and she had a powerful word in response to them. Sobering. 

Television and video is something that grows more pervasive every day. It's now not limited to your living room- you see it on buses, in waiting rooms, on computers, and right on your phone. It's morphed from being maybe an hour in the evening to being almost a 24/7 part of the family. Do I think television is evil? Of course not. Steve and I have been greatly enjoying True Blood lately and I think that in moderate use, it's wonderful. But especially to developing minds and especially in the quantity that television use has grown to...I just can't shake the feeling that this is contributing to the rise in ADHD and autism. And I can't shake the feeling that this is going to be something that we look back on in 10 years and view as a massive mistake. When there are entire channels and video brands dedicated to "entertaining" and "engaging" infants and children, and there are TV screens placed in the back of car seats so that kids can watch any time they're in the car...are we going to regret this?

Well, who knows. Maybe there's absolutely nothing to this. Maybe my theories are way off base. But researchers are currently exploring this very hypothesis and have been for a couple of years now...and it hasn't been disproved yet. I guess we will wait and see, but in the mean time, I know we will be keeping Anna as far away from the TV as possible. Even if it ends up not being linked to autism, I think there are a million other benefits to limiting the screen time.,2933,222481,00.html


Atlanta, Food and Love said...

This is going to sound very stalker/obsessive...but anyway - I think you are so very smart! I have only hung out with you a handful of times, so I don't really KNOW you...but I love reading your blog. You seem to think things thru at a level that most people don't and all though you are convicted in your beliefs you don't try to push them on anyone/everyone. I have no idea about autism, but it does seem like watching TV all the time could lead to not being able to make emotional connections to people - makes sense to me. I feel confident no matter what you are raising what will turn out to be a smart, well spoken, understanding lady!

Robin said...

This is a great post and I agree with you and your ideas about what may be part of the cause of autism.

Just yesterday I was talking with a coworker who has a granddaughter with Aspergers. I had just met and had a conversation with the 8 year old girl and didn't even know of her diagnosis until my coworker told me. Apparently, they discovered it when she was 18 months old and began therapies at that time and it has greatly improved her quality of life and ability to thrive in public school with her peers.

There have definitely been great strides in research and therapy for autistic children and I hope that a cure/research that can lead to prevention will emerge soon!