Autism is a developmental disorder that affects approximately one out of every 160 children born in the United States. Autistic children often have varying degrees of communication and socialization problems. Developmental delays are common, although autistic children may have high intelligence. Autism is usually diagnosed when a child is around 18 months old.
While researchers can’t say for sure what causes autism, connections are being made between exposure to environmental toxins and the development of autism. This exposure can happen before birth, affecting the baby’s developing brain. In fact, some studies are beginning to show that if an expectant mother is exposed to pesticides, her baby has a higher chance of developing autism.
Autism is a neurological disorder. Symptoms of autism include:
- avoidance of physical contact
- delays in language development and socialization
- extreme sensitivity to light
- sensitivity to sound.
Often, parents are the first to notice the symptoms of autism in their children. If you notice any of the above-mentioned symptoms, talk to your doctor as soon as possible.
Autism: The Toxic Link
In a recent study, researchers found that women who lived near the Central Valley in California had a higher chance of giving birth to a child that would develop autism. The common denominator in these cases was exposure to a certain class of pesticides called organochlorine pesticides. The closer the women lived to the area treated by these pesticides, the more likely it was that their children would be diagnosed with autism.
Researchers believe that exposure to pesticides, heavy metals or other pollutants can negatively affect brain development in unborn children or young children whose immune systems are not able to handle the exposure.
Autism and Toxins: The Medical Debate
In the medical community, there is dispute regarding the link between autism and toxins, including pesticides and thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative used in some vaccines.
Some researchers believe that autism is caused by genetics, while others believe that exposure to toxins triggers autism in children. The latter back their views with the fact that many autistic children develop normally for many months before they begin regressing and showing signs of autism.
Those who believe thimerosal contributes to autism cite the fact that many autistic children develop normally for a period of time and don’t exhibit autism symptoms until approximately 18 months, which is the same time when most children receive the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine.
Autism: Protecting Your Children
While there is no clear cause of autism, there are some things you can do to protect your child from the possible causes of autism. Here are some tips:
- Minimize your child’s exposure to all forms of pollution. If you must smoke, don’t smoke in your house, in your car or around your children.
- No doctor would suggest that parents stop having their children immunized. The risk of catching and spreading diseases like measles, mumps and rubella or whooping cough are far too high. However, most vaccines are now available without mercury preservatives. Ask your doctor to use thimerosal-free vaccines.
- While many dangerous pesticides are no longer being used, some are still used in agriculture. To minimize your child’s exposure to potentially toxic pesticides, buy organic produce.
Cone, Marla (n.d.). Pesticide link to autism suspected. Retrieved on August 20, 2007, from the LA Times Web site: http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-autusm30jul30,0,6609909.story?coll=la-home-center.
Environmental Working Group (Dec. 13, 2004). Autism – Environmental Chemicals