Tag Archives: Biomedical Treatments

Vaccines and Autism: Stop Beating a Dead Horse #AtoZChallenge

Welcome to day 22 in the A to Z Challenge on autism. Today, I focus on a very controversial subjects: do vaccines cause autism?

The answer to this question could be very short: no. The Autism Science Foundation has compiled an exhaustive list of studies on the subject, which investigate pretty much every aspect of vaccines that the anti-vaccine community has blamed for autism, including whether vaccinated children are generally more likely to be autistic than non-vaccinated children. The anti-vaccine crowd have consistently demanded such a population-based study, but several were published and they still believe vaccines cause autism.

The problem is a little more complicated in one tiny aspect, and this is the fact that the general autism community believes that autism is purely genetic. This has not been proven, and the anti-vaccine community has a point to suggest environmental factors in general could be risk factors for autism.

What if avoidable environmental factors, such as vaccines, did cause autism in genetically vulnerable children? After all, we know that vaccines and other environmental factors carry risks. It is easy to say that no more vaccinated children are autistic than non-vaccinated children, for example, but what if a multitude of environmental factors, including vaccines, could contribute to autism? As a parent, after all, you’re not dealing with a population of vaccinated and unvaccinated children; you are dealing with your own child.

You have to weigh risks. With vaccines, however, the problem is you run the risk of losing herd immunity if you and a lot of parents are not vaccinating. Herd immunity is the condition in which a disease has been extinguished due to a large part of the population being immunized to it. This is tough, because you are not dealing with the entire population as I said; you are dealing with your child. It is not like, if you don’t vaccinate, they are guaranteed to die of the disease the vaccine protects against, but another child just might. In this sense, while I advocate parents’ right to make decisions about their children’s health, I urge parents to be responsible.

Another problem is that the vaccine controversy hinders research into other environmental and genetic factors that might cause autism. For example, many people using biomedical interventions for autism find that their child has (or is thought to have) a lot of things wrong with them, including for example food intolerances. What if the key to finding the cause of autism lay in fact with such other, often trivialized, biological factors? It is understandable that parents who are part of the pro-biomed community are discredited, because they keep insisting vaccines cause autism in spite of overwheming evidence to the contrary.

Research is not advanced if people advocating for it keep asking the same questions that have been answered a million times. If you truly want to prevent autism (which I for one don’t, but many parents do), support research into a variety of enviornmental and genetic risk factors and stop beating a dead horse.

Biomedical Treatments for Autism #AtoZChallenge

Welcome to day two of the A to Z Challenge. Today, I want to focus on a controversial subject: biomedical interventions for autism. Biomedical intervention can mean different things to different people. For example, NICE, the UK’s national institute that provides guidance on improving health and social care, defines biomedical treatment as any biologically-based intervention, including medications like antipsychotics. Most people in the autism community, however, see biomedical interventions as specifically treating biological dysfunction that they presume underlies autism.

Problems commonly believed to underlie autism include gastrointestinal disorders, food intolerances and immune dysfunction. These conditions are not always easy to diagnose, so many parents end up trying biomedical treatments on their autistic children based on a trial-and-error approach. This is not necessarily bad and is sometimes even recommended by regular doctors.

Biomedical treatments include special diets such as the gluten-free/casein-free diet or the Feingold diet, the latter of which is gaining increasing ground for being an effective intervention for ADHD. A special diet can be an elimination diet, as the GF/CF and Feingold diets are, but it can also be a diet that encourages people to eat certain foods, such as those containing essential fatty acids.

Biomedical treatments also include nutritional supplements such as vitamin B6 and magnesium, vitamin B12 or DMG (dymethylglycine). Hormones like melatonin (the sleep hormone) may also be used as part of a biomedical intervention.

Heavy metal chelation, where a person gets medications to remove metals like mercury or lead from thier system, is perhaps the most controversial biomedical treatment for autism. This is not only because autistic people do not have significantly higher levels of heavy metals in their systems than non-autistic people and hence the treatment is unproven, but also because it is one of the more dagngerous interventions.

There is no proof at this point that biomedical treatments are effective for autism, or even that physical conditions like the ones I mentioned above cause autism. However, many parents do report their child’s behavior significantly improves with these interventions. This could be because, like non-autistic children, autistic children may very well have food intolerances, nutritinal deficiencies, etc. These may cause significant physical discomfort. I for one do have a diagnosed vitamin B12 deficiency and irritable bowel syndrome (which is thought to be triggered by certain foods). When I got treated for the B12 deficiency, I not only got better physically, but mentally as well. This is the most plausible reason biomedical treatments help autistic children: they feel better physically so their behavior improves.