Autism, Autism and Mercury

The Environment and Autism

A new book is putting the blame for the rise in Autism on pollution in the environment and its just received extensive coverage in The Times.
The number of people — and particularly young children — who have autistic spectrum disorders (ASD) has risen dramatically over the past two decades. ASD used to be identified in a few children in every 10,000: it now affects as much as 1 per cent of the population. Part of this rise is certainly due to a broader definition and increased diagnosis, but some experts are convinced that there has also been a real rise. Lathe is one, and he believes that this is in part due to an increase in environmental toxins — pesticides, PCBs (from plastics) and particularly heavy metals including mercury and lead (both known neurotoxins).
I’m a little skeptical about whether there really is a rise in actual cases though certainly better awareness of the problem has lead to an increase in diagnosis (see Autism Levels Higher But Stable). It also easy to point to the environmental and blame it but no bio-medical mechanism for pollution to cause autism has been found. However there is some interesting data linking rises in power stations emissions with rises of autism.
Finally the article makes some suggestions for parents of autistic children based on the book, such as “eat organic”. The advice is good and I’m sure that any autistic child’s life would be improved if their parents followed it but this does not prove causal link between pollution and autism.