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“May increase the risk of autism” studies versus real scientific research

Weird Science

Autism is still very much a mystery, I’m fairly certain that we can all agree on that. Some people may think they have it all figured out (anti-vaccine extremists) but for the most part, everyone admits that there is still a lot to learn.

May Increase The Risk of Autism

As such, study after study seems to hit the news wires with the tag line “may increase the risk of autism” and collectively, the entire autism community rolls their eyes.

Some of these studies in the last year include “Living Near a Highway May Contribute to Autism Risk“, “Jaundice in newborns may be linked to autism“, “Sibling spacing may be tied to autism risk“, “Early Prenatal Vitamin Use Prevents Autism” and the list goes on.

You have to understand how these studies come about. Researchers pick a year, or several years, go back through medical records of children born during those years, determine which ones have been diagnosed with Autism and find something that more than 50% of them have in common.

If they find that 55% of children living close to a highway had Autism, then they can release a news story saying that a study was done that determined that living close to a highway increased the risk.

There’s several problems with this.

  1. They aren’t counting the children that have gone undiagnosed.
  2. A lot of information could be out of date or simply incorrect. Historical records in studies make for a huge margin of error.
  3. When you’re looking for a commonality, you can find virtually anything.

Allow me to clarify #3… let’s say that they could find out if a bird was flying over the house at the moment of conception in 51% of Autism cases. This could result in a study stating that birds flying overhead during sex could increase the risk of Autism.

Luckily, there’s no way they could check that but you know what? It’s possible that it did happen.

Does that mean it really increased the risk? No.

Real Scientific Research

Ah, science. You know, that stuff you see on television where they mix chemicals, dissect and examine the insides of animals and people… you know, science.

The most recent real research to be released states: “Gene Expression in the Brain Offers Clues to Autism’s Roots

This study was done on actual children post mortem (after they died), where they actually opened up and investigate actual brain matter of children with and without Autism.  If you don’t wish to read all of it, here’s the summary:

Working with the brain tissue of youngsters after their death, Geschwind and his team found that compared with nonautistic children, those who had the disorder showed a marked drop in gene expression in two areas of the cerebral cortex, where higher-order processing occurs — the frontal lobe, which plays a role in judgment, creativity, emotion and speech, and the temporal lobe, which is involved in hearing, language and the processing of sounds. These areas have been implicated in autism before.

In addition, Geschwind found that healthy brains showed distinct differences in the level of expression of some 500 genes between the frontal and temporal lobes. But this difference in expression was missing in the autistic brains; the features that would normally distinguish the two regions had disappeared, Geschwind said.

This is actual genetic and scientific proof that the brain of children with Autism are different than those without. Furthermore, it goes on to say:

It turns out that even in the womb, the fetal brain begins to show differences in gene expression between the frontal and temporal lobes, suggesting that the developmental abnormality associated with autism may develop then too.

This suggests that jaundice and vaccines and other “after birth” factors likely have no effect. It does not have much of an effect on other studies that base their focus on the mother during her pregnancy.

Even still, it does show that it is a genetic disorder that is not just something that you can force out of them through discipline or shock therapy.

Some other notable scientific research includes “Early Brain Overgrowth Linked to Autism” and “Researchers Reveal 18 Novel Subtype-Dependent Genetic Variants for Autism Spectrum Disorders“.

Again, looking at real subjects instead of just comparing old data, looking for commonalities.

What do we believe?

I’m not saying that we have to ignore the studies base on researching data and basing conclusions on those findings… those studies have real value and they’re done for a reason. However, as we in the Autism community can see, they seem to be grasping at straws.

It’s a shot in the dark approach at playing with odds in a crap shoot who’s results may or may not be accurate. “May increase” means it might not, and “increase risk” means that there’s still a 0% to 100% chance. That means there are lots of people who’s children have Autism that go against what the conclusion of the study states.

Not very comforting.

However, people that know nothing about Autism nor how these studies are done will read them and base their future pregnancies on that information. They’ll move, they’ll take their vitamins, they’ll make sure not to have a child within a year of the previous one… and their child might still have Autism.

They’ll wonder what they did wrong. As if it was their fault.

I share these studies and stories on Twitter, Facebook and here on this blog because, as I said, it’s valuable information. You and I need to know about them just in case someone asks us “hey, I read on CNN, do you think your child has Autism because you lived close to a highway?” and you’ll need to have an answer because your answer might affect their future decisions, and their future information sharing with others.

Keep in mind though, that maybe some of these studies are right. Maybe the data actually does add up and it does make it more likely that your child will have Autism. Unfortunately, there’s just no real way to know which are wrong and which are right. Just because you and I beat the odds, it doesn’t mean that it didn’t make it more likely. Even though I compare statistical analysis to “real science”, it is real science too.

Until they have definitive proof one way or another, we have to keep an open mind and inform others to keep an open mind. “May increase risk of” is a very very vague statement that is very scary to a lot of people even though it really means not much at all.

Don’t avoid them, don’t avoid the questions and don’t get frustrated with them either. Read them to know them and answer the questions honestly.

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Credibility in Autism?? Who Do We Trust?

The funny thing I’ve come to discover while making my way through the online Autism community is that, depending on who you talk to, everyone has a hidden agenda, everyone has something they’ve done wrong, everyone is a liar, a cheat, a fake, a phony and everyone knows nothing about anything.

Don’t go telling me that I’m not right, that you know someone who’s really great or really smart, because for every person you tell me about, I can find someone else cutting them down.

How the hell did it get like this?? Aren’t we all wanting to make our children exceptional? Aren’t we all wanting the same answers?? How did we become so cynical??

Well, unfortunately, this has a rather long history… we have some who call ALL EXPERTS phonies due to their past. As ignorant as it is, they disregard anything and everything they say because 50 years ago, the experts thought that Autism was caused by “refrigerator moms” that didn’t love their children enough. Because of that, here we are 50 years later with people still holding that over their heads, as if they haven’t learned anything since then… as if these 20 year old doctors were even there 50 years ago at all!!!

Then we have the fine folks at Age of Autism who cut down and verbally chastise anyone and everyone that doesn’t fit their anti-vaccine agenda… they even call themselves journalists but won’t cover any story that isn’t anti-government, anti-pharmaceuticals or anti-vaccine.

On the other end of the spectrum (pun intended), we have Autism Speaks that has no one on the spectrum on their board, they have disregarded the vaccine issue all together and have some rather questionable research into certain genetic areas including prenatal screening (meaning that moms could opt for abortion if Autism is detected).

Who do we trust?!?!? Well, it branches out from there for the most part. We have doctors and scientists and experts and parents that latch on to what ever is most profitable or is simply what it is that we want to hear.

That’s where the whole system breaks down. For every single study you can show me, I can show you another study that says the opposite. And so we fight!!!! We bicker and argue like children because we’re all told the information that we want to hear! And we believe it!!

You have a doctor with a laundry list of broken ethics, he’s been disbanded entirely and people still believe him!! And why?? Because he says what they want to hear.. what they believe to be the truth.

Well, why is every other doctor not credible but suddenly this one doctor is??  Simple, he says what they want to hear, it doesn’t matter how many laws he broke, children he hurt, hidden agendas he has or shady payments he got.  They want to hear it, he says it, it’s the truth… and they will fight for it. Did he do all those things? Those who believe him will tell you no, those who don’t will say yes. Who is right!?!? And if I could provide you with absolutely concrete proof one way or another, would you believe me or still dismiss it because it’s not what you want to hear??

Things fall apart so quickly… we quickly go from trusting these experts that are there with our best intentions at heart to not trusting a single one of them because they contradict each other and ultimately let us down by giving us no real answers.

Amongst all those contradictory answers are the ones that we want to hear. No one knows which ones are the truth… NO ONE KNOWS… but we hold up the ones we want to hear like a gospel that is unbreakable and must be told to everyone. We close our minds to opinions or even facts to the contrary and verbally cut down anyone that questions it.

We need to wake up, we need to stop acting like children. Seriously, I’m really getting more and more disgusted the more I read into it. We need people to focus the arguing/fighting time into reading and research time and soak in more information… not to be able to decide who is right, but just to learn! Don’t go looking for ammo for your next fight. Go looking for knowledge for the sake of knowing it!!

Change your mind set people. Don’t close your mind once you hear what you want to hear. Find a study to the contrary, study it and see what the differences are. Find someone that discredits a doctor and consider it and seek out more info. Don’t just dismiss it cause it’s not what you want to hear about your favourite doctor.

Here’s my rule: If no doctors are credible, then no one doctor is. You are not free to just choose one. The moment you contradict yourself to me, I’m done listening and will seek out the information for myself.

Do I think IVF causes Autism? No. Do I think vaccines cause Autism? No. Do I think C-Sections cause Autism? No. Do I think environmental toxins cause Autism? No idea.

Can I be proven wrong, absolutely. I’d love to be proven wrong! Do more studies!!! Prove me wrong!! Please!! Because I am ok with being wrong, especially if it means we finally have answers. Please don’t be afraid to be wrong. Our children are much more important than our pride.

And that is what’s important. Not who is right. Not who is wrong. And your little name calling, fighting and bickering is definitely not what is important. Only, our children, only the answers… and the more you fight, the longer it’ll take to get those answers.

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