They may not make eye contact. Or respond to their names. Those are among the early signs of autism in children.
Autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) is a continuum of cognitive and neurobehavioral disorders. It includes autism.
About 1 in 68 U.S. children have been identified with having ASD, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Worldwide, there has been an increase in the rate of autism diagnoses. This is likely driven by increased awareness and new diagnostic standards.
A handful of celebrities blame their children’s disorders on vaccination. They base their belief on a 20-year-old debunked link between ASD and vaccines.
Studies have shown many times over that there is no link. Still, the notion plays a role in the modern anti-vaccination movement.
So the question remains: If vaccines don’t cause autism, what does?
Researchers think autism develops from a combination of genetic and environmental influences. They also found pregnant women who take antidepressants risk having children with autism.
The autism debate began in 1998. British gastroenterologist Andrew Wakefield conducted a study. Eight children developed their first symptoms of autism within one month of receiving the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine.
All eight children had gastrointestinal symptoms. Wakefield stated that the vaccine led to a release of toxins from the GI tract to the bloodstream and then to the brain. It therefore affected development.
This study, published in The Lancet, was deeply flawed. It had no control subjects, there was no blind testing and data was not collected systematically.
There was no data supporting the claim and no believable biological mechanism was stated. The article has been debunked, disavowed, retracted and is considered one of the most infamous pieces of scientific fraud. Wakefield was stripped of his medical credentials.
Since Wakefield’s paper, there have been dozens of large-scale studies around the world that have failed to support an association between vaccines and autism. But Wakefield believers still exist.
Unfortunately, due to his erroneous article, vaccination rates have dropped. Children are getting sick, sometimes dying because parents are terrified.
People who question whether vaccines cause autism focus on thimerosal. Thimerosal is a preservative used to prevent contamination when multidose vials are used.
Many parents think one or more of the following:
Another reason for the drop-off in vaccination rates is timing.
Children with autism begin to exhibit signs of the disorder between 12 and 18 months of age. This is a time when they are receiving vaccinations. But that doesn’t mean vaccines cause autism.
Health care providers may notice early signs of autism but not make an official diagnosis until after age 3.
A 2013 CDC study looked at vaccines during the first two years of life. Specifically, the CDC studied the number of antigens.
Antigens are the substances in vaccines that cause the body’s immune system to produce disease-fighting antibodies.
The results showed children with ASD received the same amount of antigen from vaccines as children who did not have ASD.
Autism tends to run in families. Changes in certain genes increase the risk that a child will develop autism.
There is an increased autism risk with:
There is a decreased risk if a woman takes prenatal vitamins.
A study earlier this year in JAMA Pediatrics linked antidepressants called SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) with an increased risk of autism.
Women taking Zoloft and Paxil face a 200 percent increased risk that their children will have autism. The risk from all antidepressants was 87 percent, according to Professor Anick Bérard of the University of Montreal and other researchers. They reviewed data from nearly 150,000 Canadian pregnancies.
Researchers continue to examine the many possible factors behind autism. Vaccines don’t prove to be one of them.
David Kirby, author of Evidence of Harm, states in his best-selling book: “The irony is that vaccine skepticism, not the vaccines themselves, is now looking like the true public health threat.”
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