Environmental factors play a critical role in development of autism

A study published this week again confirms that environmental factors play a critical role in the development of autism.  Genetic Heritability and Shared Environmental Factors Among Twin Pairs With Autism, funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), provides further confirmation that genes alone cannot explain the exponential rise in autism rates over the past two decades.  Now an epidemic, autism prevalence was 1:10000 for children born in 1980 but rose to 1:110 for children born in 1998, with a 57% rise in prevalence among children born in 1994 based upon CDC-reported data.

The authors concluded: "Our study provides evidence that . . . the influence of genetic factors on the susceptibility to develop autism [has been] overestimated. . . . Increasingly, evidence is accumulating that overt symptoms of autism emerge around the end of the first year of life. Because the prenatal environment and early postnatal environment are shared between twin individuals, we hypothesize that at least some of the environmental factors impacting susceptibility to autism exert their effect during this critical period of life. . . . Future studies that seek to elucidate such factors and their role in enhancing or suppressing genetic susceptibility are likely to enhance our understanding of autism."

The National Autism Association (NAA), along with several other advocacy organizations and thousands of families nationwide, has consistently pointed out that a purely genetic "epidemic" isn't possible, and that environmental factors including vaccines must be examined more closely to find the causes of autism so that new cases can be prevented and existing cases treated. "This is further evidence that we have to stop siphoning scarce autism research dollars to search for elusive autism genes," said parent and NAA board chair Lori McIlwain.  "Blaming genetics has gotten us nowhere.  With one percent of our nation's children affected, we must focus on autism research that will lead to better treatments in the shortest amount of time possible."  

With the passage in 2006 of the Combating Autism Act, Congress directed NIH to research environmental causes of autism, including vaccines, yet only 9% of FY09 research funding was spent on environmental causation.  Despite the Congressional mandate and repeated calls for vaccine research, e.g. comparing the rate of autism in fully vaccinated versus unvaccinated children, no CAA money has been spent examining vaccine causation.

The Federal Vaccine Court has been compensating autism cases since 1990, making vaccines one of a small handful of environmental factors known to cause autism. http://digitalcommons.pace.edu/pelr/vol28/iss2/6/. A few poorly designed, and in some cases fraudulent, "population" studies funded by CDC have failed to find a link to vaccines, but recent privately funded studies using CDC and Department of Education data have found an association.  The Institute of Medicine held a conference on autism and the environment in 2007, focusing in part on vaccine causation.  Its 2004 review of epidemiology left open the possibility that vaccines were causing autism in susceptible children. "We urgently need much more research on vaccine causation and other environmental factors," said Ms. McIlwain.

In recent years, a growing number of parents around the country have reported sometimes quite rapid loss of social, language, and behavioral skills in their healthy children following the receipt of vaccines, many of which are given simultaneously during "well baby" check-ups.  Following the current schedule, children will receive 49 vaccines by the time they reach kindergarten.  The safety of giving simultaneous vaccines, and the cumulative health effects from vaccines have not been adequately studied, yet federal health agencies and most in mainstream medicine attribute regression following vaccination to coincidence.  

Parents and autism advocates have repeatedly asked that federal research funding be directed towards vaccine safety concerns including a comparative study of overall health outcomes in vaccinated vs. non-vaccinated populations.  "Determining which factors can lead to an autism diagnosis obviously has implications for improving treatment options," said Ms. McIlwain. "This latest research is yet another wake-up call to our federal health agencies to stop following a fruitless genetics research agenda."


National Autism Association


  1. Chris Chris United States says:

    This study shows that the envirnonment in the womb is important, which can be due to a lot of things, but babies don't receive vaccines in the womb, so this study does not support a role for vaccines.
    Yet the National Autism Association is trying very hard to spin this new study to support that view. Clearly they have an agenda.

    • Heather White Heather White United States says:

      Chris, pregnant women are injected with mercury containing flu vaccines.  Mercury crosses the placental barrier and uptakes in the fetus.  The FDA cautions fish consumption while pregnant but encourages vaccination even-though the limits of mercury exposure is MUCH higher (25 mcg) in a flu vaccine.

      EPA sets a limit of 0.1 mcg/kg body weight/day for methylmercury exposure (fish consumption) to avoid fetal exposure that will cause disabilities "to use language, to process information, and in visual/motor integration." - sounds like autism symptoms, no?


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