Autism is one of a group of neurologically-based developmental disabilities called autism spectrum disorders (ASDs), which are conditions that feature substantially impaired social interaction and communication skills and unusual behaviors and interests. Other ASDs include Asperger syndrome, Rett syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS).
Can vaccinations directly cause autism?
Boys are four times more likely than girls to have ASDs, which occur in all racial, ethnic and socioeconomic groups, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The effects of ASDs vary widely, from mild to disabling.
Autism frequently makes headlines in the news, often highlighted by debate and controversy. Although countless research hours and dollars have been spent studying autism, much remains to be understood about the disorder, including why there has been an uptick in cases, and whether childhood vaccines are to blame. … There is also uncertainty surrounding possible causes of autism. An emotional maelstrom continues to swirl around the idea that thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative used in children’s vaccines, causes autism. Scientific studies have refuted the idea that vaccinations directly cause autism, and the federal government has worked to eliminate thimerosal from childhood vaccines, but some people still cling to the idea that vaccinations put children at risk.
It can be difficult to dismiss the argument that vaccinations are somehow linked to autism when faced with heart-wrenching stories from parents, says Dr. Arthur C. Maerlender Jr., a neuropsychologist at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and assistant professor in Psychiatry at Dartmouth Medical School. “When you talk to parents whose child is clearly autistic, and they say [the autism symptoms] started within a month of having — or within days, they sometimes tell me — of their child having the shot, it’s kind of hard to say, ‘Well, you don’t know what you’re talking about.’ ... You get these anecdotal stories that are very compelling and you think, boy, it sure sounds like that could be true, but the research doesn’t support it.”
Symptoms associated with autism appear before a child reaches his or her third birthday, which is around the same time that children routinely make consistent visits to their pediatrician and receive vaccinations, points out Dr. Laura Rubin, a clinical psychologist and founder of the Portsmouth Neuropsychology Center. So maybe it’s possible that the relationship between vaccines and autism is more coincidental than causal, some say — just a matter of timing.
Although I only casually follow the medical literature on autism, I’m certain that further research and studies are currently in progress since this seems to be a popular area of current focus. I would be interested to see what these future investigations reveal.
The debate goes on. Some people believe that any of a number of toxins in our environment and in our food has contributed to the spike in autism cases. Still others point solely to genetics; Harvard researchers this summer identified six genes involved in autism. Many scientists believe the truth lies somewhere in between, and that autism results from a combination of environmental factors and genetics. …