Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Autism's First Child and False Prophets

The Atlantic has a great article up on the first child ever diagnosed with autism.  He is now 77 years old, and has lived a long, happy life - mostly due to his parents efforts to not only manage his disease but to channel his autistic tendencies in a direction they would be fruitful.  Oh, and also due to their trust fund and money set up basically just to care for him.

Initially, the child was diagnosed with schitzophrenia and institutionalized.  After his parents pursued different doctors, they eventually landed in the New York office of Dr Kanner.
Kanner did not coin the term autistic. It was already in use in psychiatry, not as the name of a syndrome but as an observational term describing the way some patients with schizophrenia withdrew from contact with those around them. Like the word feverish, it described a symptom, not an illness. But now Kanner was using it to pinpoint and label a complex set of behaviors that together constituted a single, never-before-recognized diagnosis: autism.
The article does a very good job of examining how autism affects individuals once they are grown, and what happens to them when their parents are no longer there to care for them.  To no surprise, it turns out that a supportive large social network around them is what helps keep them afloat.  Autistic individuals have to parse our emotional states one wrinkle of our faces at a time, and that is extraordinarily hard.  People around them have to be aware of these difficulties in order for the autistic person to be successful.

He later explained to Gerhardt: “The rules keep changing on me. Every time I think I learn a new rule, you change it on me.”
The answer to this problem, Gerhardt argues, is the right kind of education for the many Tonys out there. At present, he contends, schooling for children with high-functioning levels of autism overemphasizes traditional academic achievement—trying to learn French or the state capitals—at the expense of what someone like Tony really needs, a set of social skills that keep him from making mistakes such as hugging his neighbor the wrong way. These skills—like knowing how to swipe a Visa card—are not generally taught to kids with autism. And once they become adults, the teaching, in all too many cases, stops completely. In general, state-funded education ends the day a person with autism turns 21. Beyond that, there are no legal mandates, and there is very little funding. “It’s like giving someone a wheelchair on a one-month rental,” Gerhardt says, “and at the end of the month, they have to give it back, and walk.”
And, in other news on this disorder, there is a study out to disprove, once-and-for-all, any connection between thimerosal (mercury) and autism.  Don't go eating mercury now, it's still pretty bad for you, but the small amount you are exposed to in daily life (including vaccinations) will not make you autistic, it seems.

...when adding up total thimerosal exposure, the investigators also included any thimerosal exposure that might have come prenatally from maternal receipt of flu vaccines during pregnancy, as well as immunoglobulins, tetanus toxoids, and diphtheria-tetanus. In other words, investigators tried to factor in all the various ideas for how TCVs might contribute to autism when designing this study.
The authors also accounted for regressive symptoms, cumulative thimerosal exposure, and so on and so on.  It is probably the most comprehensive study done up to this point, and just like the Japan autism studies, it looks pretty bad for the anti-vaccination movement.  We just can't find a connection, at all, between these two events, using any sort of statistical analysis.  Unfortunately, that does not abate the flames on the anti-vaccination movement, and now we have a whooping cough outbreak in California..... which boggles my mind.


Post a Comment

Post a Comment

Related Posts with Thumbnails