With the life-changing events that have transpired in regard to COVID 19, we all now know first-hand what it means to live through a global pandemic.
But for the families and the children living with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), PANS and PANDAS, obsessive compulsive disorder and pediatric mental health issues, they have long experienced what constitutes a pandemic of chronic medical problems.
ASD diagnoses in the United States have in a relatively short time appeared to have swept the country; in the span of a single generation, from 1985 to 2015, cases skyrocketed from 1 in every 2500 to 1 in every 65. Just from 1993 to 2003, the numbers jumped by 657 percent, according to figures from the U.S. Department of Education.
ASD and neurotypical disorders in children are a part of a major medical worldwide pandemic and represents the fastest growing disability (1.8 million cases) in the United States. Recent CDC rates of ASD are now 1:36 children, 1:27.5 boys (~3% of our population and climbing).
The Autism Society website states that autism is the fastest-growing developmental disability, costing the country $236-262 billion annually. The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) just reported in June that the lifetime cost of caring for an individual with autism ranges from $1.4 million to $2.4 million (for those with intellectual disability as well). These costs will undoubtedly increase at an exponential rate as the incidence of ASD continues to double and for the children and their families, the emotional and financial impacts are simply overwhelming.
Is There a Connection Between the Immune System and Autism?
Scientists have studied the link between possible autoimmune origins for many cases of autism, detailed here in an article in The Scientist: https://www.the-scientist.com/notebook/excess-of-immune-cells-found-in-brains-of-people-with-autism-66917
As cited in the piece, fifteen years ago, Carlos Pardo-Villamizar of Johns Hopkins University and colleagues studied postmortem brain tissues and cerebrospinal fluid from individuals with autism and found signs of neuro-inflammation in the cerebral cortex and cerebellum, both of which are regions essential for sensory perception and for motor skills such as balance and coordination.
Ongoing research clearly shows that neuro-immune mechanisms play a major role in the pathogenesis of autism and other neurotypical disorders such as PANS and PANDAS in a subset of the population. While having a family history of autoimmune disease has been shown to be a risk factor, the dysregulated or abnormal immune response in these children is leading to and fueling brain pathology. And it’s critical we identify what is driving this immune dysregulation in order to improve clinical outcomes.
Environmental risks that present with potential issues, some of which are controllable and others that are not, include:
▪ air pollution
▪ parental age
▪ medical conditions (e.g. infection and diabetes)
▪ quality of prenatal care
▪ and lifestyle factors such as maternal diet, smoking (active and passive/secondhand smoke), alcohol consumption and time between pregnancies.
Vaccine administration as an environmental factor also continues to be a hotly debated subject in autism etiology that has unfortunately failed to yield any truly helpful dialogue to appropriately explore the potential connection.
The rising tide of neurotypical disorders in children shows no sign of flattening of the curve. Some scientists like Stephanie Seneff at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have blamed increased autism rates on exposure to the herbicide glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup weed control product) and warned that an “autism apocalypse” could in 2025 number half of the children in the U.S. While this may or may not be a figure we ultimately realize, we do know that the numbers of children with ASD are ever-increasing and demand the attention of the medical and scientific community to address this pandemic that existed long before the current COVID 19 event.
Autism needs to be recognized as an environmentally induced disease in certain populations that may also be genetically predisposed and subsequently at a higher risk from the two-fold impact. As noted in an article in The Atlantic, potentially there is another “crisis of care” looming as children with autism reach adulthood and there simply aren’t enough programs and services to meet the burgeoning need.
We greatly need a worldwide awakening to the hazards within our own homes and all around us to identify and address the environmental toxicity that abounds on an equally global scope. Time is of the essence. And not a single moment more can be wasted in pursuing the solutions from which we can all benefit.
In health and hope,
Dr. Suzanne Gazda
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Dr. Suzanne Gazda, Integrative Neurology