The Tragedy Of Autism
Perhaps the most painful experience any parent can have is the discovery that their child suffers from some type of affliction. As heartbreaking as such a discovery is in any circumstance, for parents of autistic children, the heartbreak can be especially poignant.
In the most severe cases, autistic children seem to be in a world of their own avoiding even eye contact. About half never learn to speak, and many have trouble with nonverbal communication. Imagine what it would be like if your child misinterpreted a hug as an assault as these children can. Particularly frightening for parents of autistic children is the self-destructive behavior they can exhibit. Some children repeatedly bang their heads against a wall or table. Other children scratch or rub their skin until it bleeds. Still others bite their hands oblivious to the pain.
Worst of all, when a parent faced with the tragedy of an autistic child seeks help; they are often told that little can be done!
Yet, even in the tragedy of autism there can be a ray of light. About 10 percent of autistic children, termed “autistic savants,” demonstrate extraordinary skills in some area. Raymond, the character the actor Dustin Hoffman portrayed in the film “Rain Man” was such an individual. Among the most common special talents exhibited by these “autistic savants” are mathematical ability, musical ability and artistic ability. Notably, each of these areas represents an area of nonverbal communication.
One case history supports the notion that such “autistic savants” are seeking a means to communicate. An autistic child named Nadia exhibited savant abilities as an artist. She drew pictures of horses so beautiful that they were compared to the work of Rembrandt! But when Nadia learned to speak after extensive therapy, she lost her artistic ability.
Types Of Autism
One little-known fact is that autism is not really a disease. Rather it is what is termed a “spectrum disorder,” a set of symptoms that can vary in severity from a slight impairment to a totally disabling condition. To date five different types of autism have been identified:
Autistic Disorder: This is the form most people associate with the term autism. It is characterized by impairments of social interaction, communication and imaginative play; stereotyped behaviors, interests and activities. It is usually evident before the age of 3.
Asperger’s Disorder: This is sometimes referred to as “high-functioning autism.” One important difference between Asperger’s Disorder and other forms of autism is that there is no deficiency in either speech or cognitive ability. Indeed, many individuals believed to suffer from Asperger’s Disorder have above average intelligence. For example, Albert Einstein, author Vladimir Nabakov, composer Bela Bartok and artist Andy Warhol are all believed to have suffered from Asperger’s Disorder.
Pervasive Development Disorder (PDD): This term is really a catch-all for children who do not meet all of the requirements for the diagnosis of a specific form of autism, but who nonetheless exhibit severe and pervasive impairment in many of the behaviors associated with autism.
Rett’s Disorder: This form of autism primarily affects girls and can be among the most disheartening for parents. Children suffering from this disease initially develop normally, but then begin to lose their acquired skills. Ultimately motor skills are severely impaired and profound mental retardation occurs.
Childhood Disintegrative Disorder (CDD): Like Rett’s Disorder, children afflicted with CDD initially develop normally. In some cases, it can be as long as four years before the symptoms begin to manifest. When it does, however, the child rapidly regresses losing acquired skills and ultimately becoming severely disabled. Although in some cases, treatment can result in a partial reversal of the process, such success is rare and the prognosis for improvement is worse than for autism.
An Autism Epidemic
While medical science claims to know little about autism, one thing is certain: its incidence is increasing at epidemic proportions. In the early 1980s, the proportion of children diagnosed with the most acute form of autism annually was roughly one in 10,000. But since that time, there has been a frightening increase. In one study of five counties surrounding Atlanta, CDC researchers reported a rate of one in 375 – almost 27 times more than in the 1980s. Worse, some research suggests that the rate may be as high as one in 150, or almost 67 times the rate of the early 1980s!
Other data confirm the worst fears about the incredible increase in autism rates. According to the United States Department of Education, in 1993, there were 12,222 autistic children enrolled in federal school programs. By 2000, that number had skyrocketed to 65,396. It is important to remember that these figures reflect only those children who are over the age of six and are enrolled in special programs financed by the government. Many school jurisdictions do not provide such services. In fact, one estimate places the number of autistic children in the United States at over 1.5 million!
To illustrate what these figures mean, consider the following:
In the 1990s:
- The U.S. population increased 13%.
- The number of Disabled people in America increased by 16%.
- The number of children with autism increased 172%!
But what could have caused this startling rise in children afflicted with autism?
Autism And Vaccines
Many parents believed that the cause was the vaccines the government mandated for young children – and more specifically an additive to those vaccines.
For more than a decade, a debate raged over the role that thimerosal, a preservative used in most vaccines until recently, might or might not have in causing autism. On the one side were parents who believed that the mercury contained in thimerosal was causing neurological damage that resulted in autism.
Their concerns were not baseless.
It has long been known that mercury is a potent neurotoxin. Indeed, the expression “Mad as a Hatter” came from the widespread mercury poisoning among “felters” who made hats during the 18th Century. They commonly used liquid mercury to roll the brims of hats, and after years of exposure suffered a broad range of neurological symptoms including depression, vasomotor disturbance, loss of motor control and shyness.
But it was not just the fact that the vaccines contained mercury that concerned the parents, it was the amount of mercury their children were ingesting.
By the time a child reached the age of two, they would have been given 187.5 micrograms of methylmercury, up to 150 times more than the EPA limit!
Despite the known toxicity of methylmercury, Big Pharma and Organized Medicine insisted that there was no proof of any harm related to vaccination. But Congress was becoming increasingly concerned about the possible autism-mercury link, and Big Pharma and Organized Medicine were feeling the heat. But there was a practical consideration as well. If it turned out that there was a link between thimerosal and autism, vaccine manufacturers could be liable for billions of dollars in damages – something their ravenous appetite for profits would simply not permit! So, to silence the critics, they had the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conduct a study to settle the issue once and for all.
Big Pharma Responds
The findings of the CDC analysis were published In the November 2003 issue of the Journal “Pediatrics” and appeared to vindicate Big Pharma.
Dr. Frank DeStefano of the CDC was blunt in his assessment of the report’s results:
“The final results of the study show no statistical association between thimerosal vaccines and harmful health outcomes in children.”
In other words, the report concluded that there was no link between vaccines and autism. The media, always accommodating to Big Pharma and its allies in Organized Medicine was quick to trumpet the findings as putting an end to the debate.
After all, this was the CDC, and if they said there was no problem, their conclusions were beyond dispute!
Or were they?
Parents who had been active on the thimerosal issue smelled a rat, but fortunately they had a rat catcher on their side: Florida Congressman Dave Weldon!
Catching The Rat
A physician and Army veteran who worked his way through college, graduating with high honors, the five-term Representative had the medical expertise to recognize that something was amiss with the CDC study and the guts to take on Big Pharma!
Using the powers of his congressional office, Weldon obtained early versions of the study and, perhaps more important, the transcript of a secret meeting held by the researchers.
What Weldon discovered was shocking!
In a letter to Dr. Julie Gerberding, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Florida Congressman took the agency to task:
“I have read the upcoming Pediatrics study and several earlier versions of this study dating back to February 2000. I have read various emails from Dr. Verstraeten and coauthors. I have reviewed transcripts of a discussion at Simpsonwood, GA between the author and various CDC employees, and vaccine industry representatives. I found a disturbing pattern which merits a thorough, open, timely and independent review by researchers outside of the CDC, HHS, the vaccine industry, and others with a conflict of interest in vaccine related issues (including many in University settings who may have conflicts).”
Weldon’s letter continued:
“A review of these documents leaves me very concerned that rather than seeking to understand whether or not some children were exposed to harmful levels of mercury in childhood vaccines in the 1990s, there may have been a selective use of data to make the associations in the earliest study disappear. While most childhood vaccines now only have trace amounts of mercury from thimerosal containing vaccines (TCVs), it is critical that we know with certainty if children were injured in the 1990s.”
Weldon, it appeared, had caught the CDC researchers red-handed! They never dreamed that anyone could find out what they were up to, but then they didn’t count on being investigated by a Congressman whose office had the power to obtain data that an average individual could not.
And what was it his office discovered?
According to his letter:
“The first version of the study produced in February, 2000, found a significant association between exposure to thimerosal containing vaccines (TCVs) and autism and neurological developmental delays (NDDs). When comparing children exposed to 62.5 micrograms of mercury by 3 months of age to those exposed to less than 37.5 micrograms, the study found a relative risk of autism of 2.48 with a higher exposure level.”
In other words, the first version of the report said that there was a definite link between thimerosal and autism – exactly the opposite of the result reported in the final report published in Pediatrics!
But how could this be?
If The Facts Don’t Fit, Cook The Books!
According to Weldon:
“A June 2000 version of the study applied various data manipulations to reduce the autism association…”
In other words, they cooked the books!
According to what Weldon discovered, they did more than just adjust the statistics. When the information in the Vaccine Safety Database or VSD they had assembled simply would not support their conclusions, they went to another source for data to:
“…counter the associations between TCVs and speech delays.”
Remember, speech delays are one of the earliest and most important symptoms of autism!
But that’s not all.
The database they added was from the Harvard Pilgrim, or HP HMO in Massachusetts. But there was good reason to believe that the database was so flawed as to be useless!
“At the time that HP’s data was brought in, HP was in receivership by the state of Mass., its computer records had been in shambles for years, it had multiple computer systems that could not communicate with one another (Journal of Law, Ethics and Medicine Sept. 22, 2000) and it used a health care coding system totally different from the one used across the VSD. There are questions relating to a significant underreporting of Autism in Mass. The HP dataset is only about 15% of the HMO dataset used in the February 2000 study. There may also be significant problems with the statistical power of the HP dataset.”
In computer jargon there is an expression: “garbage in – garbage out, or GIGO.” The HP database was a classic example of this phenomenon. It is difficult to believe that the experienced researchers at the CDC would not have been aware of this fact, and of the fact that any conclusions reached on the basis of analyzing the HP data were essentially meaningless.
But if they knew, or should have known that they had a seriously flawed database why would they use it?
The transcripts of a secret meeting at Simpsonwood, GA suggest that they probably were fully aware of what they were doing.
A Secret Meeting
Weldon summarized several key passages from the transcript in his letter to Dr. Gerberding. What they revealed made suspicions that the study intentionally altered the data’s conclusions all the more valid.
In regard to the association between thimerosal and autism, Dr. Verstraeten’s comments were in direct conflict with the final report’s conclusions:
“We found a statistically significant relationship between exposures and outcomes. There is certainly an under ascertainment of adverse outcomes because some children are just simply not old enough to be diagnosed, the current incidence rates are much lower than we would expect to see.”
In other words, not only was there a link, but it was probably far greater than even the first version of the study indicated.