For years—at least a decade, as it was a question among the psychology community when I studied abnormal psychology about one decade ago—there have been questions regarding why autism rates are rising. One of the many theories is that rates are not rising. Instead, the medical community has gotten better at recognizing and diagnosing Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), coupled with a much expanded definition of ASD.
The last two weeks were really cool for me. Two exciting studies were released regarding autism. One study out of the UK indicates that autism rates in adults are the same as those in children. Many of the subjects of this study had no idea they fell under the spectrum, nor had they ever been diagnosed with autism. Another study out of South Korea, indicates higher rates of ASD in South Korean students—2.6% compared to 0.9% in the US—simply as a result of expanding testing to include students who are not considered to be in high-risk groups. Both of these studies are excellent starting points to answering the question, “Have ASD incidence rates increased or are we just more aware and therefore doing a better job diagnosing it?”
This good beginning was overshadowed by other autism news.
Last week, a number of press releases went out stating that a new study, published in the student-run Pace Environment Law Journal, proves a vaccine-autism link. Quoted from one press release:
“As this study shows, vaccines can and do cause brain damage and subsequent autism in certain children,” said Fournier.
Another press release stated:
The question is no longer, “Can vaccines cause autism?” The answer is clear. Now, we have to ask, “How many cases of autism have vaccines caused and how do we prevent new injuries from occurring?”
Before I speak to this study, I want to make it clear that there are known risks to vaccines, including seizures and encephalopathy. These risks have never been denied and vary depending on the vaccine.
I want to make it clear that immunization is not 100% effective. Depending on the vaccine, these rates vary. Also, not all vaccines provide lifetime immunity and booster shots are required. However, if you want to weigh the risks of severe complications from the disease—1 in 1,000 die from measles—compared to the rate of severe complications from the vaccine—Encephalitis or severe allergic reaction: 1 in 1,000,000. Seizure: 333 in 1,000,000 from MMR—the odds are in favor of the vaccine.
The study did not show vaccines can and do cause brain damage. It was an already known fact that has never been denied or disputed. In fact, with every single case cited in this study, the reasons for compensation were due to seizures and/or encephalopathy. None were awarded compensation because the child became autistic as a result of immunization and the study states as much.
In the introduction, the authors state (page 4):
This assessment of compensated cases showing an association between vaccines and autism is not, and does not purport to be, science. In no way does it explain scientific causation or even necessarily undermine the reasoning of the decision in the Omnibus Autism Proceeding based on the scientific theories and medical evidence before the VICP.
What the conclusion actually states is (page 53):
While there are likely many routes to “autism,” including prenatal neurological insults and toxic post-natal exposures, this preliminary analysis of VICP-compensated cases suggests that autism is often associated with vaccine-induced brain damage. It raises the questions if the VICP’s decisions have been fair to reject all claims of vaccine injury that use the term “autism.” This preliminary assessment also suggests the possibility that other contemporary childhood neurological disorders, including attention deficit disorder and learning disabilities, might be less severe after-effects, on the same spectrum of vaccine-induce brain injury.
Based on this preliminary assessment, there may be no meaningful distinction between the cases of encephalopathy and residual seizure disorder that the VICP compensated over the last twenty years and the cases of “autism” that the VICP has denied. If true, this would be a profound injustice to those denied recovery and to all who have invested trust in this system that Congress created. This preliminary study calls for Congress to investigate the VICP and for scientists to investigate all compensated cases of vaccine injury to gain a fuller understanding of the totality of consequences of vaccine injury.
Also stated by the authors (page 14):
Because autistic disorder is defined only by an aggregation of symptoms, there is no meaningful distinction between the terms “autism” and “autism-like symptoms.” This article makes the distinction only to accurately reflect the terms that the Court of Federal Claims, caregivers, and others use. It is not a distinction to which the authors attach significance.
The problem with the above statement is that there is a significance, especially as there are a number of disorders that can appear like autism, having many things in common with autism, but are not autism. This is a very dangerous way of thinking. Imagine if the medical community had this type of thinking when it came to treating any disease or disorder that shares traits with, or has a tendency to mimic, other diseases and disorders.
All the authors did was search a database for specific terms and compiled the search results together, then try to report a causality link, while acknowledging that the legal standard of causation is not the same as the scientific standard. Using their method, I could pick any word I wanted, one that I know is in the database, then create a paper designed to show causation.
Read the rest of Jules’ post examining this study over at GeekMom.