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The Infamous Autism Cause Debates: Where Do You Stand?

Autism puzzle piece

The “cause” debates are some of the hottest topics in the world of Autism. It seems that parents of Autistic children, scientists and Autistic adults are all at odds as to the cause of Autism and whether finding the causes is responsible or necessary. Almost everybody eventually joins a side in these debates, it is hard to stay out of them. Once a person’s mind is made up often they hold these beliefs close to their heart and it is impossible to sway them to any other way of thinking, I.e. vaccines causing or not causing Autism. Debates over causes have been known to get heated quickly.


The Cause Debate

There are three basic groups that you should know about in this topic. Groups I have lovingly named the “Non-Scientific Group,” the “McCarthy Group,” and the “Disease Group.” The cause debates are touchy ones. No one knows for sure what really causes autism, but there are several ideas floating around out there that could be a cause. Many of these have been debunked over the years, several still hold belief from some.

Possible Causes of Autism, past and present:
-Age of Parents
-Prenatal Environment
-Thyroid problems in the mother
-Inadequate iodine
-Taking Folic Acid
-High testosterone levels in the amniotic fluid
-Low birth weight
-Bleeding on the infant’s brain
-Lack of vitamin d
-Tylenol given after the MMR vaccine
-Mother withholding affection (refrigerator mom)
-The Herpes Virus
-Multiple Sclerosis

No matter what your belief is on what the cause of Autism is, you likely will run into someone from one of these groups.

The Non-Scientific Group

This is largely a group of parents that believes that there is no Autism epidemic despite there being many nations believing that there is one at hand. Among other beliefs they do not believe that there has been an increase in the number of Autism diagnoses at all. They also do not buy into the belief that vaccines cause Autism. One such belief I do share with them.

Some of the people classified into the “Non-Scientific Group” even doubt there being any genetic links to Autism, even though over 200 have been found to date. Their main belief and argument points to testing criteria changes being the problem. They believe that testing criteria points being added, and the Autism diagnostic criteria being altered so many times to be the contributing factors to the rise in the diagnosis of Autism. So, not that there are more Autistic children but that there is more room for error in the diagnostic criteria. Their point, you see, is that from 1980-1993 there were 6 diagnosing criteria for being diagnosed with Autism. In 1994 sixteen optional points were added, leading to the belief that this added criteria left more room for judgement errors.

This group seems to be more accepting of the “environmental causes” than anything. Overall though, they believe that the numbers aren’t really going up, kids are just being misdiagnosed.

The McCarthy Group

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This group I lovingly call the “McCarthy Group” because their stance really picked up speed after Jenny McCarthy came out with her book, Louder Than Words. A book claiming her son has Autism (A diagnosis that has since been rumored to have been a misdiagnosis) caused by his vaccines and diet. They take a strong stance in the belief that vaccines cause Autism. To be more specific, they believe that mercury in vaccines are to be blamed. To be even more specific, they point fingers at a specific type of mercury-thimerosal.

Thimerosal is 49 percent ethyl mercury and was used in many vaccines up until 1999. In 1999 it was removed from vaccinations, aside from the flu vaccine and some vaccines used overseas. Regardless of the halted usage of Thimerosal in vaccines in the United States, many parents still believe that the MMR vaccine changed their child. These individuals dismiss the CDC’s claims and federal rulings as nonsense. In some cases, even calling the announcements that vaccines do not cause Autism as a conspiracy against families of Autistics.

They also believe wholeheartedly in the Gluten Free Diet for Autistic individuals. A diet that severely restricts what a child can eat, removing all gluten from their diet.

The Disease Group

The third group of individuals that you should be aware of as a parent of an Autistic child is the “disease group.” This group of people believe that Autism is a disease not a disorder. They do not buy into the beliefs of the McCarthy Group or the Non-Scientific Group. These people believe that Autism is a virus that you get that needs to be treated; not a disorder that needs to be accepted, managed and loved. As you would expect most scientist disagree with this group of individuals more adamantly than they do the McCarthy Group.

The path that some of these parents take with their children is dangerous and disturbing. From MMS treatments to withholding treatments all together.

Where I find myself

My children’s Autism is genetic, so I don’t have the "why" question anymore. But for years I did, and I formed my opinion without much research. I read one book and thought, “Yeah, that makes sense.” I ran on that mode of thinking for years, until I started writing. Now I have evolved in my thinking. I was an anti-vaxxer. Now I am a huge proponent for vaccinations. I used to believe that genetics played no role in Autism. I was proven wrong in that form of thinking with one blood test and 2 saliva tests. Now, after 14 years, I wonder what all the debating and fighting is for. Aren't we all supposed to be in this together. Fighting for our children as one? Shouldn't we be supporting each other, not calling names and fighting online.

For one, we don’t know what causes Autism in most cases. What’s the point in fighting over something so unproven? Second, why are we fighting over things that are not our place to fight about. These arguments are doing nothing but splitting us as a community. Finding what causes Autism is up to the researchers and scientists that work tirelessly everyday to figure out why the rates are climbing and to find the best course of action for our children; it isn’t up to a bunch of parents to decide- we aren’t qualified. It's our job to be our children's voices and advocates as they grow in life-through doctors appointments, IEP meetings, social engagements and transitioning into adulthood; not to fight each other every step of the way. Be open to new research and to other's ideas without hatred.

One thing is for sure, we do need to pinpoint more causes to come up with better treatments and every single day there are research studies going on to do just this. If you do form an opinion on either side of these debates, I implore you to do your research. Doing a little research can open your eyes to new possibilities and avenues of treatment. Once you do decide that you sit on one side or the other, always be open to swaying your opinion. Nothing is set in stone in the world of Autism.