No One Knows. Or Do They?

the professorYesterday I read yet another article on how parents who put off having children are to blame for the neurological problems that children are facing in ever-increasing numbers, How Older Parenthood Will Upend American Society. Granted, the author never said it flat out, but it was the strong subtext. So what was the response in the autism community to this “insightful” article? I think disgust might be a reasonably accurate description. Mama Mac’s comment was “Bullshit! Older parents don’t make autism. Autism makes parents old!” And, while I have suspected that a larger percentage of the children of older parents and parents who have used assisted reproductive techniques (who are by no means all “older”) have neurological problems than parents who are in their twenties and have not used ART, I’m inclined to agree with Mama Mac. Because, when it comes down to it, this theory touted in all the usual mainstream media outlets in slightly differing forms, cannot explain what we see every day.

Initially it was thought that it was older mothers that were to blame, then it was decided that older fathers were actually the source of the genetic mutations that are associated with autism. Source after source after source says that 15-30% of all cases of autism can be explained with this theory. No one says how they got that number, though. A man over 40 only has a two percent risk of having those genetic mutations in the first place. There is some likelihood that sperm sporting these mutations would find it more difficult to fertilize an egg than sperm that didn’t, so it seems unlikely that even two percent of children born to fathers over 40 will have these genetic mutations, and fathers over 40 account for only a small percentage of babies that are born. The official autism rate for current twelve-year-olds is one in 88. There is much speculation that for younger children the rate is higher still, like oh . . . say, close to two percent. So perhaps these mutations can account for the not-quite-two percent of children of fathers over 40 who have autism, but what accounts for the not-quite-two percent of children of fathers under 40?

Even CBS News expressed some doubt that this theory does much explaining:

But Yale researcher Dr. Stephan Sanders warned it’s too soon to definitively say the father’s age is the top factor.

“So I think it is fair to say increasing father’s age does increase the instance of autism but that effect is small,” Sanders said.

This theory and study is just one in a long line of theories that make parents of children with autism roll their eyes. Others theories that purport to account for the recent rise in cases of autism include such gems as bad genes , geeks marrying, living near a highway,  prenatal flu infection , the mother’s use of antidepressants , and the mother’s weight . I’m sure I’ve missed a couple. You know why the parents of children with autism roll their eyes every time one of these studies comes out? Because even if valid every single one of these theories can only account for a small percentage of cases. I know plenty of families with autistic children whose parents were young, slim, healthy people living nowhere near highways, and no hint of geek or even depression – at least until after the autism diagnosis.

The same group of parents roll their eyes for a different reason every time a new study comes out on medical issues for people with autism, including things like gastrointestinal difficulties, mitochondrial dysfunction, seizure disorders, and autoimmune problems, especially life-threatening food allergies. The autism parent response to these articles is usually along the lines of, “Well, duh.  I could have told them that five years ago,” or, “It’s about friggin’ time we saw this in a mainstream publication.” That’s because this group of parents are among the most medically informed people on the planet, and they know the physical issues their kids are facing day after day. The researchers performing these medical studies are listening to us and are starting to nail down the science to back up what we already know. The rest of the world then says, “Gee, I guess you were right all along,” or forwards the article to us, completely forgetting that we told them about it ages ago.

My point is this, these knowledgeable parents are driving the medical research on treatments that actually help people with autism. The vast anecdotal knowledge we have accumulated is being gathered and used for good. Except for one area: the causes and prevention of autism. Virtually every article you will read on autism contains the words “No one knows” somewhere in the article. “No one knows” why autism is so much more prevalent than it used to be. “No one knows” what causes autism. “No one knows” what makes one child more likely to develop autism than another.

But that’s not strictly true, is it? Some people do know. The very same parents we’ve been talking about know a heck of a lot more about the subject than the author of just about any article written for a mainstream publication. How do they know? They’ve been sharing their anecdotes with each other for years. When you hear the same story over and over again, you start to get a pretty good picture of what’s going on. In the science world, that’s known as “gathering data.” (One of my pet peeves is when information is dismissed as anecdote, as if that makes it any less valid data than data that has been quantified.  There is nothing “scientific” about that attitude.)

For instance, one thing that most people with children on the spectrum seem to have in common is some form of immune dysfunction, especially autoimmune conditions. Things like lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma and allergies appear in much higher percentages in autism parents than in the general population.  And yet you rarely see that trumpeted in a mainstream publication.

Why does this get so little attention?  I think it’s because autoimmunity is closely connected to the other thing that many people know about autism. Autism can be, and is, frequently triggered by vaccines. Autoimmune conditions are known to be triggered by vaccines, and by vaccine adjuvants. Talking about autoimmunity will immediately bring up the subject of vaccines. But autoimmune conditions are rising at ridiculous rates these days as well.

I developed allergies, then asthma between the ages of 11 and 13. At that point, medical professionals knew very little about asthma as it was generally considered pretty rare. Often they would talk about children “growing out of it.” Why, then, did I grow into it? Could it be that “new” mumps shot I’d received at 11? Maybe the reason why so many children in the past who had asthma seemed to “grow out of it” was because they stopped vaccinating long before we do now.

So we know a large chunk of the vulnerable population: children of people with autoimmune conditions. And, yes, there are people with autoimmune conditions whose children are neurotypical, or at least not autistic. So what’s different between those children who are neurotypical, or close, and those who are severely affected by autism? Once again, all you have to do is go to the deep knowledge base that is parents and you’ll get your answer.

You’ll hear things like:

He was fine until he was at the doctor for his 12-month visit. He had a cold and was on antibiotics for an ear infection, but the doctor insisted it was safe to vaccinate. He got five vaccines that day (some of them multiples), spiked a fever that night and arched his back (sign of seizure). I gave him Tylenol, but it didn’t seem to help. He’s never been the same since.

That’s a synthesis, not a particular case, but it illustrates several of the most obvious risk factors that we know will be more likely to lead to an autism diagnosis down the road:  antibiotic use, vaccinating while sick or on antibiotics, multiple vaccinations in one day, and the use of Tylenol (acetaminophen) to bring down the fever. (Natasha Campbell-McBride M.D., author of Gut and Psychology Syndrome, goes so far as to say that children of parents with autoimmune illnesses are never candidates for vaccination, while Kenneth Bock, M.D., author of Autism, ADHD, Asthma and Allergies, Healing the New Childhood Epidemics, gives guidelines for safer vaccination.) In cases where none of those things are present, you are much less likely to see autism. Do I have “science” in the form of quantified studies to back up those statements? No, not really.  Just a huge pile of anecdotes. Why do you think that is?  Well, if you’re cynical like me, you’ll think it’s because nobody wants to blame the venerable cash cow of vaccines for making children sick.

(There are several other huge red flags, by the way. Children who had gastrointestinal issues and/or severe food allergies before developing autism are common. You should tread very carefully if you see these issues in your children. Will a mainstream pediatrician tell you this? Nope. I know because my son had both, along with a history of antibiotic use and his (former) pediatrician was very eager to vaccinate him. Thank God, I didn’t listen to her and instead listened to other parents. As a result, his apraxia turned out to be relatively easy to turn around.)

One of my favorite moments from the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Hearing on the Federal Response to Autism, was when Congressman Paul Gosar of Arizona said,


“. . . I can understand their (referring to families in the gallery) frustration. It’s mortifying . . . coordination in studies is inherently poor, absolutely horrible. . . .  But we have people that are so motivated in these families . . . . And I’m finding more from them, than I am the medical research. And it seems to me we’re focusing something wrong here. We should be focusing on the family. They’re telling you what’s going on. They’re frustrated because the research is cylindrical. They (the researchers) are not sharing.  They’re not coordinating. At all. And they’re (indicating families in the gallery) telling you what’s wrong and what’s going on. And we should be focusing on the family and utilizing that as a coordinating factor.”  

I can only respond, “Amen, Congressman. Amen.”

~ Professor

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22 Responses to No One Knows. Or Do They?

  1. sharon.scott. says:

    Thank you! This is what I needed. I realize, they’re saying my Asperger’s Syndrome was because my parents were older when I was born in their middle 40’s. They already had 3 children. But, that was not true, I was very sick as a child from age 2 to about age 6. A lot of trouble with food allergies and allergies in general missed a lot of school from 1st through 4th grade, do to illness. But, was never diagnosis with anything, when I hit JR High and High School, I was said to be depressed, then that changed to Bi-Polar. Then two years ago, I went to a new doctor, she took me off most my meds now I am feeling better, she said to my husband I was on to much meds, ones I did not need, that’s when she told us I was an Aspie. That has change my whole life now. I have a better out look on life now. And about myself. So I am really starting to believe it was my early shots.

    • Professor says:

      Sharon, I wouldn’t be at all surprised given your history of allergies and food sensitivities. Those are frequently related to vaccines. I’m glad you’re feeling a lot better.

  2. Apple says:

    They used thimerosal in IVF and they may still in lower concentrations.
    I don’t have reference to human use but thimerosal increases sperm motility as per below.

    Asian Journal of Animal and Veterinary Advances
    Year: 2011 | Volume: 6 | Issue: 11 | Page No.: 1052-1060
    DOI: 10.3923/ajava.2011.1052.1060
    Impact on Hyperactivated Motility of Cryopreserved Mouse Sperm from Pretreatment with Thimerosal
    Yan-Ping Wang, Guang-Bin Zhou, Yan Zeng, Jun-Jie Li, Qing-Jing Zhang, Yun-Peng Hou and Shi-En Zhu

    Abstract: Hyperactivated motility of sperm cells is essential to successful fertilization. This study was performed to observe the effect of Thimerosal treatment of cryopreserved mouse sperm on their hyperactivated motility and subsequent development to two-cell embryos after in vitro fertilization. Hyperactivated motility was evaluated by curvilinear velocity (VCL, the rate of travel of the sperm head) and Amplitude of Lateral Head Displacement (ALH, degree of side-to-side head movement measured as the mean width of head oscillations) of cells using Computer-assisted Sperm Analysis (CASA). The fresh sperm had higher VCL and ALH than frozen-thawed sperm (p<0.05). Following In Vitro Fertilization (IVF), fertilization rate from frozen-thawed sperm was significantly lower than that from fresh sperm (71.6, 94.4%) (p<0.05). Neither VCL nor ALH differed significantly between fresh sperm and frozen-thawed sperm not treated with Thimerosal. The decreased hyperactivated motility of mouse sperm due to cryopreservation may contribute to reduced fertilization rate compared to that achieved with fresh sperm. In addition because Thimerosal treatment of sperm after cryopreservation enhances hyperactivated motility, its use may improve the development of cryopreserved mouse oocytes from cryopreserved sperm.

  3. Becky says:

    The other characteristic of ‘older’ parents is that they are possibly more responsible, and since they have waited so long for their baby, they have a strong desire to be a perfect parent and do everything exactly as the medical ‘experts’ recommend. They might feel a greater reliance on expert advice rather than trusting in their instincts.

    • Professor says:

      I’ve always thought that would be a confounding factor, too, Becky. Older parents tend to be well-educated, have adequate funds and be very conscientious with respect to “well-baby visits.” That was certainly me when I became a mom at 38.

  4. momof3hfgirls says:

    I’ve done years of family tree research. Not just mine, but for many other people as well. The older parent theory is just bunk. Big bunk. 100-150 years ago women had babies until they couldn’t anymore. Either through death in childbirth, snakebite or some other sadness, or things just ‘quit working’. Ie, oopause. which is about 10 years prior to menopause.

    Many women had babies until their early 40’s. The fathers were often the same age as the mothers, or even older. I can count many such instances even in my own family tree. My grandfather was the ‘baby’ of his family. Completely neurotypical. Didn’t even LIKE sweets or carbs. Preferred greens and scrambled eggs type foods. His mother was 42 when he was born and his father was 60.

    In another instance, the mother was 47 (yes, really, one of my great aunts remembered this lady being huge and pregnant in August and said she was ‘miserable’. Indeed.) and his father was 58. Another completely neurotypical human being. Was a master carpenter who built the detailed cabinetry you see in older victorian and craftsman homes. I could go on and on but you get the idea. It’s only since the advent of artificial contraception that women could decide they were ‘too old’ to have kids. In all previous history they just sort of had them till they didn’t anymore. And, I guarantee you if those older mothers had had a 20yr old son in diapers the washing machine WOULD have been invented earlier!

    In my own line further back one of my male ancestors had 25 kids by 3 wives. The first two died young. One of snakebite and another of yellow fever. The old coot remarried just shy of 60 to a 34yr old ‘spinster’ and had 6 kids with her before he expired sometime in his mid 70’s. I see the descendants of all those particular kids at a family reunion I attend each year. All 6 of those kids married and had kids. I’m betting the 20yr old nonverbal male in diapers wouldn’t go far in the marriage market in 1880? Or be able to work at a job (prior to government supported social networks) that would be lucrative enough to support a wife and children of their own. So, i’m betting all those kids were NT also.

    Interestingly enough, what I did NOT find was the deaths of 1 in 3 kids prior to age 5. that statistic bugaboo used to scare parents into vaxing. My stats (over 150 years and many many many families) were more like 1:10. And some of those were things that would have been treatable with a good ER. Snakebite, broken limb, burns, etc. NOT disease related.

    And yet, in this time prior to the formation of large ‘asylum’ systems in much of the country there were few ‘special’ kids. In fact, I didn’t find but one in my research. These kids are ‘easy’ to find if you look at the census reports. You’ll see a 18yr old living at home with their parents. 10y later there is a 28yr old living at home with their parents. 20y later there’s a 38yr old living at home with parents. 30y later there’s a 48yr old living with a sibling. In the particular case I’m aware of the child in question had been severely burned in a kitchen fire and managed to survive in spite of no antibiotics or burn units. This, of course, damaged their ‘marriageability’ so they had to live with relatives. Any ASD kids would be a lead pipe cinch to find with census reports. They’re the ones that would NOT have been getting married, starting a business, buying a farm, establishing a homestead or having kids.

    The idea that having babies at 40 is somehow ‘new’ and ‘unnatural’ is itself ‘new and unnatural’. Go up your family trees sometimes. Uncles younger than their nephews was a common thing. One of my great grandmothers had SIX grandkids before she had my own grandmother. My dad had first cousins older than his mother. VERY common before the advent of contraception.

    In short, these ‘old mother/father’ people are nuts. It’s blame the victim on a disturbing scale.

    • Professor says:

      I LOVE your post. I didn’t bring my family into it, but the experience is similar. I come from a long line of “fertile myrtles.” My mother had 8 children. I was number 7 (I had my daughter at exactly the same age she had me). She was having kids up til she was 42. The youngest wasn’t entirely nt, but he and I had a lot more vaccines than the others. He is about a year and a half older than our oldest nephew. My mother’s mother had 13 children, as did one of her sisters. The boys at the tail end of the family never struck me as “off” in any way. They married and had many children. There was one boy with some sort of mental illness, but he was in the middle and the family seemed to attribute his illness to his years in the army during WWII.

      I suspect that the high death rates from infectious illness were mostly people in cities where infection could spread rapidly, and where food was inferior. (Read up on city milk at the Weston A. Price foundation. Horrifying. No wonder they ended up pasteurizing.)

      I wonder in their studies if they controlled for Assisted Reproductive Techniques. I would not be surprised if that accounted for ANY increase in neurological issues in children of older fathers. A number of confounding issues could be at play. IVF pregnancies are notoriously highly medicalized, possible contributors include: drugs used to cause hyperovulation, extra ultrasounds, the ICSI technique that this author mentioned, the higher rate of c-sections in babies conceived by IVF, drugs used to ward off preterm labor. This is one area where I can certainly agree that, “Correlation does not equal causation.”

      As it is, they did not actually look at prevalence of ASD in the children of older men, just at their genetic mutations. Genetic mutations do not equal neurological problems, they just make them more likely.

      • momof3hfgirls says:

        Interesting you bring up the city food vs. rural food. One of my lines was entirely rural. Deep south sharecropper rural. Dirt poor. Literally. Their infant mortality was surprisingly low. They were the 1:10 or so infant/early childhood mortality. They had good quality food though. And ample sunshine. And walked barefoot most places unless it was cold or raining (Mercola calls this ‘grounding’). Chickens and fresh eggs. Fed with corn they grew themselves. The humans ate very little wheat (or consequently wheat gluten). Wheat does poorly in the very deep south. Their grain of choice was corn. (My dad remembers the names of the vegetables his grandmother grew in her kitchen garden. We make a point of perusing the heirloom seed catalogs to plant his garden every year. She grew a lot of winter squash and carrots (vitamin A!)) This was in the 1870’s and 80’s. The single childhood death was due to burning. Family lore has it that she caught her skirts on fire somehow. Awful. My dad comes from this line. They all had measles, mumps, pertussis and all the other ‘childhood’ diseases. And lived. Into their late 90’s and early 100’s. With most of their mind intact. If not teeth.

        Now, my mothers line was from up north. They were *very* wealthy (and somehow I never seem to be in any of the wills in this line ! *chuckle*). My mom’s grandfather’s family was buying and selling tens of thousands of acres in Illinois and Indiana in the mid/late 1800’s. I’ve seen one of the family homes. Easily 6-7000sq ft. Victorian. Gorgeous. In a city (Indianapolis). They had *servants* and servants quarters! That family tree is littered with childhood deaths. They also had coal burning heat. And lead crystal glasses. And access to dental care (hello mercury!) and ‘modern medicine’ which would have included all sorts of heavy metals. Their house was painted (hello lead!). The women wore silk dresses, the fabric of which had been ‘weighted’ with lead acetate to give it body and wearability. They undoubtedly ate wheat. I can imagine very fine and sophisticated baked goods were eaten on a regular basis. Think of the parties they must have thrown. They were literate and well read. Books were printed with lead ink back then. So were newspapers and periodicals.

        The children of the ‘initially wealthy’ generation that survived weren’t NEARLY as fertile as my dad’s same demographic who lived simply and rurally. Of 12 (wealthy) children, 7 lived to adulthood and 3 of those never had any children at all even though they were married prior to the availability of ‘safe’ birth control. Either they never did ‘that’, or that just wasn’t getting them pregnant. (know any infertile people these days???). Even the Catholic method isn’t perfect. So something was clearly ‘wrong’. These were the very people who could have afforded to have 15 children. Easily. And yet they died childless.

        The grandchildren of that initial wealth were ‘eaten up’ with drug addiction and gambling addiction and in one case ‘insanity’ (from my mom’s description, sounds like schizo, and put in an asylum in early 20’s). 2 of my mothers cousins on that side were OBESE. In the 1920’s. (ask me how many of the sharecroppers were obese at any time before vaccination and availability of cheap dental care?) I traced all of that (the wealthy) family’s lines back to the 1600’s. Never before had any of those lines self destructed in such a way. Until they got ‘stuff’ and a ‘lifestyle’. And enough money to avoid manual (sweaty!) labor in the sunshine.

        Anecdotes. Yes. But intriguing anyways. For kicks go to wiki and choose a 19th robber baron. See how happy their married life was. Now look at what their kids and grandkids were up to. And how many of those family lines hit a dead end in the 3rd or 4th generation. Better yet, choose a noble line. Ever wonder why many nobles and royals were insane throughout history? I’ve got my suspicions…

    • Jennifer Power says:

      Love this comment! And love this post! I am an “older” mother; first child born at 37, second child born at 41. Both conceived with ART and both NT because I have a sceptical nature and a good doctor who started me on the path to enlightenment way back when. My first is partially vaccinated – after she developed eczema and throat infections and couldn’t sit up at 6 months I decided to follow my instincts and heed my doctor’s comment when he said, “Vaccinations are barbaric.” Haven’t looked back.

      I look forward to each email in my inbox from TMR. Thank you!

  5. penxta says:

    Really great post Professor. When I was at school in the 1960s we never had ADD, ADHD or Autism Spectrum Disorder. As a parent I was uninformed and my children were all vaccinated and consequently they were constantly sick with recurring ear infections, eczema, asthma, it was so weird because we never had any of that. It is obvious that vaccines effect every single baby either mildly or severely and some times in-between. They are not safe for anyone and the amount perfect little babies are getting now is just ridiculous. Now I am a Grandmother, it has become my goal to educate my fully vaccinated and fully indoctrinated grown-up kids that vaccination is just a huge unnecessary gamble with their health and happiness. So far I have failed, Charlotte due for her next shots (legal assault) in one week.

    • Professor says:

      I agree, penxta. I was the first generation of damage. The kids who “just” have asthma now would have children much more at risk of neurological damage from the vaccines and antibiotics. I’ll be praying you get through to your grown-up kids. They should listen. You were in a position to observe the changes over time.

  6. Florence says:

    When you beat around the bush to accept an answer that is right before your eyes, only the bush will suffer.
    The environmental burden that we have put on our bodies have started revealing itself. Blaming age, etc is futile. We now have to accept that NOW is the time to change. Now is the time to stop. Now is the time to put our children’s future FIRST. At these rates, we do not have enough boys to fight in a war, procreate and support a sustainable economy. People First.

  7. Diana Gonzales says:

    Absolutely THE most memorable moment of the hearing for me! I just think that anecdotes are isolated instances. Calling our information anecdotal is the same as telling China that tea and rice are not staples! Our experiences, combined, are indeed fact.

    • Professor says:

      Absolutely, Diana. “Anecdote” really means “story,” as opposed to “numbers.” Add up a lot of “stories” and you’ve got numbers. That’s all there is to it. There are plenty of “stories” to be had. No one should dismiss the “story” of how a child got ill. Those stories ALWAYS lead to good information.

  8. Karin Schuetze says:

    So many theories, and yes I’m one of the eye-rollers. My older son has severe autism, nonverbal, very poor fine motor skills and motor planning function. I was 32 as was my husband – hardly what I would put in an “older age” type of category. My 9 year old typically developing daughter throws that theory out of the water anyway. Oh yes – never smoked, did drugs, not overweight, have always eaten very healthy, no illness while pregnant, my son had an APGAR score of 9 at birth. And I’m not alone – I know so many other famlies/mothers/dads with the same scenario. What is interesting is that our older son had all the recommended vaccinations when he was a baby, my middle son (ADHD with perhaps mild form of autism – only had a few vaccines, and for my daughter (neurotypical) we chose a vaccine exemption. So isn’t that a big clue right there? And what about many of my friends who had a child talking in sentences at age 18 months, only to lose language by age 3, who had all of their vaccinations. Just wondering……

    • Professor says:

      I agree, Karin. Yours is not a story that I hear infrequently. And, yep, HUGE clues right there in your family. That’s why I agree with Gosar that we should focus on the families who have been conducting detailed observations of their “test subjects” for years.

  9. Noreen Albright says:

    My son’s Autism and inflammation of the brain (encephalytis), body and gut was most definitely caused/triggered by over vaccination. I will go to my death having repeated this several time very publicly and privately and to studies (who conveninently wrote it down on a different piece of paper, imagine that!) to YALE to CHOP to anyone who would listen. Conflicts of interest are harming our society and corruption in greed and over vaccination is directly harming American babies. They know they are doing wrong. We have spoken our truth and they are not listening. Ignoring the problem, only increases it, which has happened 10 fold! Time for the government to step back. Glad parents are finally listening. The internet is spectacular! Definitely autoimmune and things getting turned on and off by vaccines. They know this already for sure. How many times can you hear something…and ignore it? is the question.

    • Professor says:

      Isn’t it great, Noreen, that we can get through to parents DIRECTLY through the internet? They may not be inclined to listen to us from the start, but we are gathering more and more people who know what’s going on and won’t shut up. It’s only a matter of time before demand for vaccines drops precipitously and they will have no one to blame but themselves.

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