Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Everywhere I look, these days, I seem confronted by the topic of autism. I learned last week that an aquaintance at work has two autistic children. Care was so difficult and the cost was so high that he and his wife eventually had to give the boys up to full time care facilities. The New York Times has had several articles on autism recently. I have seen articles in a number of other journals, as well. It has come up in a number of conversations, recently, and not of my accord.

Today I gave in, and I read a number of articles on on the disorder, discussing onset, causes, rise of incidence in the US, related diseases, etc. I figured if fate so vigilantly continues to place the subject in front of me, perhaps it is worth taking her up on it and exposing myself to it.

I found particularly interesting one article which claims that breastfeeding might help autistic children, and may even prevent autism. Of course, there were also articles warning against breastfeeding autistic children, speculating that the casien protein in breast milk can worsen the condition.

Then I got side-tracked for a while, reading about breast-feeding in general. Autism aside, it seems that children who are breast-fed develop a higher IQ than children who are formula fed, and develop stronger immune systems, as well. I plan to breastfeed all my children. I found it interesting (although unsurprising) that women with unintended pregnances are much less likely to breastfeed their children.

Back to autism. Further reading on autism led me to read about vaccines. Some feel that childhood vaccines are at least partially responsible for many incidences of autism these days. Preservatives in vaccines are a concern, particularly thimerosal, which is 50% mercury (although it seems that they have been phasing thimerosal out in the last several years due to such concerns).

What, then, can you do if you are concerned about the risks of vaccinating your child? Vaccine requirements are decided on a state to state basis. Generally, states require some level of vaccination for children to enter into the public school system. Many states allow religious excemptions and a few offer philosophical exemptions, but these can be hard to obtain.

I'm not sure how I feel about vaccination; there's so much diverse information out there, and I'm not at all educated on the subject. I will certainly want to become more educated before my children are vacccinated, however.

Reading about mercury in vaccinations and the possible causal link to autism led me to read about mercury poisoning compared with autism. Symptoms of mercury poisoning are quite similar to symptoms of autism, and some believe that at least a portion of reported cases of autism today are actually cases of mercury poisoning. Mercury toxicity also seems to be related to a number of other diseases, including (but not limited to) Alzheimer's disease.

This brought me to dental amalgams. Did you know that these widely used "silver fillings" are actually 50% mercury, and continually leak mercury vapor into your system day after day? The American Dental Association maintains the position that "amalgam continues to be a safe and effective restorative material" and "there currently appears to be no justification for discontinuing the use of dental amalgam". The US Government maintains a similar position. This line of thought is hotly contested, however. Some countries, including Canada, Sweden, German, and the UK, have even passed laws restrictng the number of amalgams that can be placed in children and pregnant women.

I now want to get my amalgams removed. Certainly before I ever conceive or bear children, hopefully quite a while before then. I'm going to call my dentist tomorrow to chat about it.

For all that blather above, I've barely brushed the surface of these topics, and I don't really know anything more about autism than when I started. I feel so under-educated and uninformed.

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