What is autism and historical perspective
By Anil Minocha MD, author: Guide to Alternative Medicine and the Digestive System
First described by Leo Kanner in 1943, Autism/Autistic spectrum disorders including the classic autism is a heterogeneous group of disorders with wide ranging clinical manifestations ranging from communication and behavioral dysfunction to social difficulties on top of normal language skills and sometimes even extraordinary talents.
“These characteristics form a unique ‘syndrome’, not heretofore reported,” he wrote based on initial observations, “which seems to be rare enough, yet is probably more frequent than is indicated by the paucity of observed cases.”
Caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors, the prevalence of autism has been rising by leaps and bound in recent decades. Initial estimates from 1966 suggested a prevalence of 4.5 per 10,000 rising to 19 per every 10,000 persons in early 1990s. The current estimates suggest that it has been rising to epidemic proportions with about 1 in every 110 kids affected. A recent CDC study found a 23% increase over just a 2-year period, the number affected with autism stood at 1 in 88 in 2008. But is this rise in prevalence real?
Data is not strong enough allowing many scientists to question the concept. Others appear to be more realistic in my opinion. According to Thomas Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Maryland, “This whole idea of whether the prevalence is increasing is so contentious for autism, but not for asthma, type 1 diabetes, food allergies — lots of other areas where people kind of accept the fact that there are more kids affected.”
How can we explain rising prevalence of autism
The exponential continued rise in prevalence cannot be merely explained by increased awareness and diagnosis at early age, use of broader clinical criteria for diagnosis and the inclusion of kids affected with mental retardation.
Inability to explain the rising tide of autism based on what we know thus far suggests that some as yet unidentified factor/s may be at play and research to find these factors needs to be undertaken at war footing. It is interesting that most of the money spent on autism research has been spent on exploring genetic factors while only small fraction is devoted to environmental issues.
How do underlying factors explain brain dysfunction of autism
How these factors affect the brain and the resulting problems continues to baffle the modern science. Theories on causation abound. Paucity of concrete facts makes it ripe for speculations which sometimes border on preposterous and cloud a substantive discussion.
Is the brain dysfunction of autism primary or secondary
What causes autism? Is the problem mainly in brain or the brain effects are secondary? Alterations in pace of growth of brain white matter may result in uncoordinated nerve cell-synapse communications.
Other factors implicated in autism including age of parents, seizure disorders, problems with immune system and endocrine/hormonal system, dysfunction of the mitochondria that are responsible for respiration at cellular level.
A fascinating theory about risk of autism
Some of the fascinating facts that have come to light include the fact that that even some scientists may fulfill the criteria for ASD and risk of ASD in a child increased when one or both parents have a scientific/engineering background.
Gastrointestinal system alterations as potential factors underlying rising prevalence of autism
A disordered gastrointestinal system e.g. permeability, altered digestive genes and micronutrient malabsorption, gut associated immune system, gut bacteria, enteric or gut nervous system either singularly or in permutations and combinations may ultimately affect the central nervous system in various forms.
Disordered gut provides unifying framework underlying autism
Invoking the gut at the core of the disorder may provide a unifying framework for better understanding of autism and its multiple diverse manifestations. The range of presentations may vary based on the qualitative and quantitative differences of the digestive factors involved.
What can we do while causation and ideal treatment continue to be mired in controversy
Early recognition and diagnosis allow application of therapeutic strategies so as to allow the child to grow to his/her fullest potential.
Why multi-targeted approach of treatment may be the best option for autism
Since multiple different factors may be at the root of the problem in different affected patients, it is reasonable to expect that no single remedy may be affective in any given individual. The opposite is in fact more likely. Because of the redundancy in the biological pathways involved, a multi-targeted approach like a 12-point autism treatment program has a greater chance of success.
Above post is based in part on articles in the journal Nature.
Other topics of interest:
Autism and constipation controversy
L-carnitine treatment for autism
Learn about celiac disease