Friday, May 21, 2010

A different perspective on autism

This guy has a pretty unique perspective on autism. I don't know enough about the history of autism research to be entirely critical of his assessment, but I do think that there is a lot of room for new hypotheses.

He postulates that:

"A simple possibility would be that there is a fundamental problem in the interaction between the child and its parent, usually the mother. It has been known for many years that if this interaction is seriously disturbed - if you can't achieve what's called joint attention with your mother or care giver - then you don't learn to speak, you don't learn social skills, and you develop restricted interests and, not infrequently, repeated stereotypic movements."

But continues:

"Autism is the most genetic of the neuropsychiatric disorders. So the child seems genetically impaired in his or her ability to interact, and the question is what is the nature of the impairment. There are lots of ideas about this. One is that autistic children don't process faces normally, which interferes with their interactions with people. Another is that they don't have the special interest in biological as opposed to inanimate things that normal children have. And another idea is that they can't figure out what's going on in somebody else's mind - called mind blindness or a 'theory of mind problem'.

I think it is very unlikely that any of those are the primary problem. I think a more likely explanation is that there is a problem with attention - a particular type of attention problem. There's increasing evidence that these children have what's called sticky attention, which is a problem with attention disengagement. When autistic children are focused on something, it's very hard to disconnect them and get them to focus on something else. So shifting attention from one thing to another seems to be a problem."

My favorite part, however, is that he does reiterate that vaccinations are not linked to the development of autism:

"But there have been ten or more studies that show pretty unequivocally that vaccination is not involved in the autism spectrum disorders. One of the best was from Denmark, which showed that the prevalence increased about 15-fold from 1990 onwards, yet MMR was introduced in Denmark in the 1970s, and thermasol was removed in the 1990s with no apparent impact. So I think it's safe to say that vaccination is a red herring. Autism spectrum disorders are now recognized to be a fairly common condition, affecting almost 1% of children, and so there will be a substantial number of coincidences in which vaccination seems to trigger the condition."

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