About Autism: According to
Autism Speaks, it is likely that throughout history people have lived
with what are now known as autistic spectrum disorders, but the term was first
used around 1911 by Swiss psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler.
Autism was first described as a specific condition by Dr Leo Kanner in 1943. The following year, Dr Hans Asperger published his paper on the 'high-functioning' form of autism that bears his name (some believe Einstein and Newton both had Asbergers). During the 1950s and '60s many doctors believed autism was a psychological disturbance caused by poor mothering. This theory was firmly crushed in the 1960s with the evidence that autism was a biological condition.
In 1994, the National Alliance for Autism Research, now merged with Autism Speaks, was established in the USA to fund biomedical research. In the mid 1990s genetic researchers began to link autism to abnormalities on certain chromosomes.
Many have posited a link between autism and childhood vaccinations containing the mercury-based preservative, thimerosal. A Danish study of more than 1/2 a million children found no increased risk for developing autism in the majority of the sample versus the one-fifth of children who had not been vaccinated. However, many argue that this does not close the case on thimerosol based vaccinations (such as the MMR) because it is possible that smaller sub-groups (such as those with chromosomal abnormalities) might be more susceptible than others. Also, other studies have found links between thimerosal and speech delays, ADD, hyperactivity and autism.
Added to this is the, perhaps, coincidental fact that since 1991, when the CDC and FDA recommended 3 additional vaccines containing thimerosal be given to very young children, the estimated number of cases of autism have increased fifteenfold, from one in every 2,500 children, to one in every 166.
This article was originally published in April 2006, and has been updated for the
May 2007 paperback release.
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