Brian S. Hooker, PH.D., P.E.

Brian S. Hooker, PH.D., P.E.

SCIENCE ADVISER, FOCUS FOR HEALTH | BIO

Not Born with It

Recently, the newest U.S. autism prevalence numbers were released by the CDC.  It was not good news.  Among children born in 2004 and 2006, the prevalence of autism had increased from 1 in 68 to 1 in 59, respectively.  Leading the nation in terms of autism prevalence was New Jersey with a rate of 1 in 35 children and 1 in 22 boys.  In other words, nearly 5% of boys in New Jersey have autism spectrum disorder as defined by the new DSM V criteria. Of the children with autism in the U.S., 56% had an evaluated IQ of 85 or less, meaning they possessed intellectual disability, with the majority of those children having an IQ of less than 70.

Many in the scientific community have posited that autism is genetically determined, and researchers have searched the genome looking for the cause of this disorder.  However, the over 400 genes that have been attributed to autism risk were found to contribute to only a fraction of autism cases.  Climbing down this flimsy branch of genetics, researchers and lauding media contrived the phrase “individuals born with autism.”

Looking at prevalence alone, we are seeing a dramatic and chilling increase in numbers of autism cases, especially in the past 18 years since CDC started to officially count autism numbers in the U.S.  In 2000, the prevalence was 1 in 250, then 1 in 133 (2006) followed by 1 in 88 (2012), 1 in 68 (2014) and now 1 in 59.  Historic data also consistently show that the rate of autism in the 1980’s was near 1 in 2000 children.  It is clear that we are in an ever-increasing epidemic of this often profoundly debilitating developmental disorder, where the majority of these children will never be able to live independently throughout their lifetime.

Let’s go back to the “individuals born with autism” phrase that I take issue with.  It is the experience of my family and many, if not most families of children with autism, that these wonderful kids were born normally, developed normally for the first one year to 18 months of life, and then regressed into the isolated, painful and disabling world of autism.  They were not born with it but experienced a significant decline in function after an environmental stressor.

Just prior to the release of the CDC’s autism prevalence numbers, an important paper by Dr. Sally Ozonoff and her colleagues at the prestigious UC Davis MIND Institute was quietly published in the journal Autism Research.  The paper, entitled “Onset Patterns in Autism: Variation across Informants, Methods, and Timing” was the culmination of a prospective study tracking the onset of autistic symptoms as evaluated by special education practitioners and parents.  This was done with the gold standard autism assessment instrument Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS), including assessments of frequency and quality of eye contact, shared affect, and overall social engagement by highly trained examiners.

147 infants with a family history of ASD and 83 without such a history were evaluated during 7 extensive practitioner assessments held periodically within the first three years of life.  If these children were born with autism they would have shown signs at the very beginning of life. But they did not.

Among those children diagnosed with autism, 88% showed a decline of function (i.e., regression) from an average to above average performance during the first assessments, as compared to those children who did not end up with an autism diagnosis.  In addition, the examiners saw a higher rate of regression than that reported even by parents (88% compared to 69%, respectively), using assessment instrument findings that were based on parental ratings and interviews.  Also, when retrospective instruments were used for reporting (which are hampered by recall bias), incidence of regression was roughly 40%, much lower than that seen in the arguably more accurate prospective study.

The conclusion of this research, the first of its kind, is critically important for future research and further dialogue about the role of genes vs. environment in autism causation.

Out of a sampling of 230 children followed for the first three years of their lives, fully 88% of those who were diagnosed with autism started at average and above average social engagement scores, and then regressed prior to ultimately being diagnosed with autism.  In other words, nearly all of the children followed in the study who developed autism had regressive autism. They were not born with it.

Resources must be allocated to understanding the environmental stressors that cause regression, and to identify the children most vulnerable to these environmental stressors.  Let’s take this new information and use it wisely: acknowledge that many individuals with autism were not born that way, and work to identify any potential environmental exposures that led to neurological and behavioral regressions and a lifetime of disability for these wonderful children and their families.

Brian S. Hooker, PH.D., P.E.

SCIENCE ADVISER, FOCUS FOR HEALTH

Brian has been a member of the Focus for Health Team since 2012 and has more recently joined the Board. He is an Associate Professor of Biology at Simpson University in Redding, California, where he specializes in chemistry and biology coursework. Additionally, Hooker is the Senior Process Consultant at ARES Corporation, working closely on process design for the environment restoration industry. His design efforts focus on industrial biotechnology and chemical engineering principles. He has a teenage son with autism and has been active in the autism community since 2004.

6 Comments

Michael Delez

The Wild proliferation of childhood vaccination that contemporary children are subjected to should not be overlooked as a primary cause of the ongoing explosion of Autism among young children! These vaccines,now given much more than ever before, in early childhood, contain Mercury and Aluminum,and other health damaging excipients! The whole theory of vaccines as a disease preventative is tremendously exaggerated to bolster profits for the Medical establishment! So imagine the horrid new world we will have as vaccine damage promotes autism to a vast majority of children,as lifelong victims of a gullible society buying Big Pharma and Mainstream Medicos bullshit! Very sad,indeed! Come on ,people;let’s push back and stop this Big Pharma Medical Madness! Victimizing young children by putting damaging toxins into their bloodstream is the worst crime ever! How utterly immoral and STUPID!

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Race

I couldn’t say it better. Sadly, I believe as you appear to that Big Pharma has either brainwashed or more likely bought off those making policy. It’s a very scary world we live in where profit is worth more then a child’s life!

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Mariska de Wild-Scholten

Among children born in 2004 and 2006, the prevalence of autism had increased from 1 in 68 to 1 in 59. –> Replace 2004 with 2014 and 2006 with 2016. Thanks for your great work!

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Michael J Nass

“Among children born in 2004 and 2006, the prevalence of autism had increased from 1 in 68 to 1 in 59, respectively. ”

Is this supposed to be 2014 and 2016? The rest of the data in the article indicates those are the accurate dates as those rates don’t seem to correspond with the earlier period.

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George H. Barbehenn

‘Autism’ now has physiological explanation, miswiring of some areas of layers 5 and/or 6 of the neocortex. This is certainly present at birth, even if its origin cannot be traced directly to genetic causes at this time.
Many neurological diseases of genetic origin, are not detectable at birth or even for years after birth, such as Pelizaeus-Merzbacher, largely because the transition from fetal to independent life involves the silencing of some genes, and the activation of others. If the ‘fetal’ genes are not compromised, but the ‘adult’ genes are, then the result may not be detectable early in life. Or the gene could interact with perfectly normal environmental conditions with unfortunate consequences, such as phenylketonuria. Some genetic variations result in the cells poisoning themselves with their own metabolites, and this make take years, or even decades, to express. Likely Lewis body and Alzheimer’s dementias are in this category.
But the above genetic baggage, and there are many more like them, involve detectable changes in the brain, and perhaps peripheral nervous system, that are not present at birth. This is *not* the case for autism.
The exception to this is Aspergers, which in my opinion is not autism, or anything like it. The distribution of Aspergers coincides with the distribution of Homo Sapiens Neantherthalis genes, in the population. The consensus is the primary difference between Neantherthal and Sapiens Sapiens society was the number of individuals in the clan. Neantherthal clans where typically 10 ~ 15 people, approximately two families. Whereas Sapiens Sapiens clans where were typically 150 ~ 200 people. The reason for this is unknown, but it seems reasonable to say that Neatherthal’s social skills, E.Q. if you will, were poor compared to Sapiens Sapiens. Exactly the description of Aspergers today.
I’m not aware of any verification of the changes in layers 5 and/or 6 of the neocortex in Asperger positive individuals, it merits investigation. But it is also interesting that Autism, as opposed to Aspergers, has a very different distribution, peaking in Eastern Asia. Denisovian genes?
The higher incidence in boys, between 4 and 16 times more prevalent than in girls, is easily explainable genetically, but very difficult to explain as environmental in origin. The vaccination rate and environmental stressors are shared equally between boys and girls. On the other hand, females are inherently more valuable. genetically. than males. This is simple fact of the definition of female, the gender that puts the most energy into offspring. This definition is unassailable in mammals. So, there is much more more dynamism in the Y chromosome, as mutations, on the Y chromosome, that are disadvantageous have an imperceptible effect on the continuity of the species. AND, advantageous mutations on the Y chromosome, are distributed throughout the population very quickly. Just do the math, a male with a strongly advantageous mutation can easily have hundreds of offspring. Alleles often swap between chromosomes in the same pair, like the X and Y chromosomes.
A single Sickle Cell Anemia gene confers immunity to Malaria, as does a single Thalassimmia gene, but two causes painful and even fatal consequences. Perhaps, a single Autism gene provides a competitive advantage, we don’t yet understand, *at the expense* of individuals who inherit two genes?
Autism affects the perception of the world around us, hence the attempt to include Aspergers in Autism. People and social interactions are part or the world around us. But, I’m struck by some persons perception of the world around us. From Beethoven, to enologists, to ‘noses’ in the scent industry there are persons with much more sophisticated perception, than the norm. These 6 or 8 sigma skills are often extremely narrowly focused. Single ‘autism’ gene?
We need to accept that our genome is *not* the product of intelligent design, but rather the result of ‘the most good, for the majority of individuals’ and that this process ‘accepts’ (that is it doesn’t select against) occasional unfortunate combinations
.
There is no downside to continuing to consider environmental interactions, but given the physiological basis for Autism, perhaps a bit more emphasis on pre-natal interactions.

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Rebekka

Wow … This is all so interesting! Thank you so much for your calm and gentle and careful explanaition! I love that you are prepared to discuss this explosive topic in this manner.

You make so many good points and you have given me pause for thought, but as I read I realised that conclusions based on certain things that are in themselves opinions rather than fact is where we all seem to be missing each other.

I would be very grateful if you were willing to dig deeper?

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