In taking a look at some of the national stories related to autism in the past week, Dr. Harvey Karp puts forth his thoughts on the role of environmental factors in the development of autism and Australia reports an alarming rise in diagnoses of autism.
Starting things down under, it is being reported that more Australia children are being diagnosed than ever before in the country’s history. This was discovered through a study conducted by the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, which studied the development of 10,000 children with half being recruited into the study at birth and the other half were in preschool.
When the children were 6-7 years and 10-11 years old respectively, parents were questioned if their children had been diagnosed with autism and if so, at what age the diagnosis occurred. In addition, the researchers also measured quality of life, behavioral strengths and difficulties, vocabulary difficulties, and intellectual development. In line with diagnoses in America, the gender of the children with autism was overwhelmingly male. According to Professor Katrina Williams, who led the study, “It is still not clear whether the difference in prevalence represents a shift to a younger age of diagnosis or a continued increase in diagnosis,” she said.
Elsewhere, at a recent Healthy Child Healthy World and Environmental Working Group luncheon, Dr. Harvey Karp, the pediatrician behind the popular The Happiest Baby series of parenting guides, addressed the topic of autism as it relates to pollutants in our food and environment. In assessing the increase in autism diagnoses and what might be the cause behind it, Karp stated “And one theory, is it’s an exposure to a certain class of chemicals that are called endocrine disrupting chemicals . . . It turns out that there are many different types of chemicals that are endocrine disrupting chemicals that are in plasticized plastic. You’ve heard of BPA, that’s an endocrine disrupting chemical. BPA was first created to be an estrogen. Then they found they could put it into plastics. Every single one of you have BPA in your bodies just from all the exposure you have. You have phthalates, which are plastic parts, as well which are in every new car…things like that. All of those have a hormonal effect and there are dozens of others; all different classes. The weird thing is that hormones are signalers, they tell cells ‘Do this, don’t do that’ and what can happen is these hormonally active chemicals make it into the brains of young babies or even before birth and shift the brain’s development. The reason I think that this could be related to autism is because it’s something that isn’t split evenly between boys and girls.”
BPA was invented 120 years ago and was most recently used to manufacture hard plastic water bottles, baby bottles, and epoxy lining of metal food cans, meaning that the vast majority of children are indeed exposed to BPA. While many states have banned the use of BPA in children’s products, it is still used in many canned foods and another substance, BPS, is just as ubiquitous and potentially dangerous. While Karp’s comments was exactly that—commentary—it has helped place a newly focused light on the role of chemicals like BPA in the development of autism.