All around the world stories are emerging where families unable to cope with the demands of autistic children, are killing them, in what many see as their only way out. Story after story mount up into a catalogue of state failures as more and more of these tragic cases come to light.
In the National Post article Mother admits to drowning autistic child | Posted Toronto… a Chinese mother states that she ‘hated autism’ after she felt driven to kill her daughter.
“I will feel regret for the rest of my life,” Peng said. “I miss my daughter every day. I still love my daughter. I hate autism.”
The New York Daily News reported only few days ago that a Bronx mum murdered her autistic son before committing suicide, her tragic suicide note describes a woman completely at her wits end:-
“The night before a Bronx mom killed her 12 year old autistic son and took her own life, she posted a heart-wrenching prayer on her blog saying her life was in God’s hands.”
“I sincerely repent of my sins, and receive Jesus as my personal savior,” Michaela Jackson wrote on It’s Mick’s World. “Now as your child, I turn my entire life over to you, Amen.”
In a suicide note she admitted that she was overwhelmed by the child.
Many of us may also remember the sad tale reported in the Blistree of the former pathologist Karen McCarron who was sentenced to 36 years in prison for the May 13th 2008 suffocation of her then 3-year-old daughter, Katherine “Katie” McCarron.
On January 17th , McCarron was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder, one count of obstructing justice and one count of concealment of a homicidal death. A request for a new trial was denied and she will have to serve all of her sentence. She was also ordered to pay a $25,000 fine; she had faced 20 years and 110 years in prison. Katie McCarron was autistic; in a taped confession, McCarron said that she ‘wanted a life without autism.’
The question is just what is driving all these mothers to become so desperate they kill their children?
To find out the answer to this question we need to delve deeper and look at the increasing numbers of children being diagnosed as autistic and then look at the possible reasons behind this huge increase. Although more children are being diagnosed with autism, to find an exact figure of children that have autism is virtually impossible. Children numbering in the tens of thousands are never diagnosed. These are possibly children with ‘traits of autism’ as many medical professionals today tend to prefer to call it. This term is sometimes used if a child displays symptoms of autistic behaviours but does not fit the criteria for clinical autism.
Another reason for a non diagnoses is when a child displays autistic behaviours but has a collection of other disorders interweaving which goes to make their overall disability profile. One autism expert Lisa Blakemore-Brown has called this a ‘tapestry of disorders’. She believes that many children are not being diagnosed with autism because they have an overlap of symptoms from other disorders leading to confusion among professionals.
In her book ‘Reweaving the Autistic Tapestry’, in the chapter that she calls the ‘Failing Systems’. She writes:-
- Researchers and clinicians working exclusively in one or other field often fail to recognize the other condition as co-morbid; instead it will be more likely regarded as a differential diagnoses.
- The interwoven features which are common to many disorders can lead to professional confusion.
- Many health professionals work in specialist areas and this can lead to children receiving a single diagnoses or none at all and to later confusion if other professionals disagree with the original diagnoses or if the child has changed over time.
- Even if a diagnoses has been provided, many parents can find their child left out in the cold through differences of opinion or through funding authorities – education and social services – being unwilling to accept the specialist’s opinion, even in some cases thwarting and sabotaging their attempts to support the child.
Ms Blakemore-Brown is right of course and this may be why so many studies state differing figures in the incidence of autism. So the next question is why is this happening, why are so many children displaying such a complex blend of neurological symptoms.
In a recent paper Sorting out the spinning of autism: heavy metals and the question of incidence by Mary Catherine DeSoto* and Robert T. Hitlan the authors attempt to explain why they believe this happening.
The abstract to their paper explains their research.
“The reasons for the rise in autism prevalence are a subject of heated professional debate. Featuring a critical appraisal of some research used to question whether there is a rise in cases and if rising levels of autism are related to environmental exposure to toxins (Soden et al. 2007, Thompson et al. 2007, Barbaresi et al. 2009) we aim to evaluate the actual state of scientific knowledge. In addition, we surveyed the empirical research on the topic of autism and heavy metal toxins. Overall, the various causes that have led to the increase in autism diagnosis are likely multi-faceted, and understanding the causes is one of the most important health topics today. We argue that scientific research does not support rejecting the link between the neurodevelopmental disorder of autism and toxic exposures.”
The paper is long and complex. It argues that increasingly over the past decade, positions that deny a link to environmental toxins and autism are based on relatively weak science and are disregarding the bulk of scientific literature. The authors show how external toxins, particularly mercury, do play a large part in the rising incidence of autism. Although they do admit that genes also have a large part to play in whether the child subsequently becomes Autistic as a result. They feel that sometimes what they call ‘unconscious biases’ occur when examining results of studies and state:-
“For example, Paul Offit concludes that Thompson and others (2007) study “found no evidence of neurological problems in children exposed to mercury-containing vaccines” (Offit 2007, p. 1979). But is this really true? According to the article’s authors, they detected only a “few significant associations with exposure to mercury” (Thompson et al. 2007, p. 1281). Of some interest to the question of early exposure and autism, “Increasing mercury exposure (in the first month of life) was associated with poorer performance of a measure of speech articulation.” (Thompson et al. 2007, p. 1281), although this finding is in need of replication, it is of interest since poor articulation occurs in those with autism (Shriberg et al. 2001). Among boys, higher mercury exposure during the first month was associated with an increase in performance IQ. This is again interesting because children with autism are known for having an uneven IQ performance such that their performance IQ is often higher than their verbal IQ (Ehlers et al. 1997). To be sure, overall, the results are not overwhelming and the inclusion of so many measures (42 different outcomes) makes it plausible to write off the few significant results as chance occurrences.
But if the aim of the study was meant to see if thimerosal might relate to autism, future research may want to target specific measures based on the autism literature and make specific predictions. If the aim was to see if thimerosal relates to general cognitive skills, it would have been wise to select tests previously shown to relate to mercury exposure. For example, past research (Weil et al. 2005) has shown that higher blood levels of mercury are associated with lower scores on visual memory (not tested by Thompson et al. 2007). There is, in fact, a significant amount of literature on mercury and cognitive function for both young children (Lederman et al. 2008) and adults (Yokoo et al. 2003, Zachi et al. 2007). In general, higher levels of mercury are associated with reductions in certain psychomotor tests and prenatal exposure to mercury often results in reduced working memory in humans and in animals (Goulet et al. 2003). The most recent research suggests that prenatal exposure specifically affects a type of learning sometimes referred to as “perseveration” especially in reversal learning (such as the Wisconsin Card Sorting Task). It has been suggested that contradictory results (and even lack of results) might relate to whether an outcome taps this precise domain (see Newland et al. 2008 for a review).
This is the sort of bias, whether conscious or unconscious, that occurs. Because some of the authors of the Thompson study have publicly aligned with opposing a mercury-autism link (by taking consulting fees), they may be unconsciously more prone to review studies that support their view, less likely to review opposing viewpoints, and may eventually become unaware of relevant research (e.g., Newland et al. 2008). By using 42 measures and finding only a small handful of effects, it is easy to say the obtained relations are chance occurrences. Then, another scholar summarizes the study and slightly changes the results based on a world view that there is no effect of thimerosal, “found no evidence of neurological problems in children exposed to mercury containing vaccines” (Offit 2007, p. 1279). Then this assessment gets quoted by those who do not bother to look carefully at the original study, and scientific advancement becomes stifled.”
Looking at the situation logically, it is easy to see why the medical profession should feel the need to cover up and often bend the truth in their favour when studies prove overwhelmingly that mercury in vaccines is one of the main causes of the rise in the incidence in autism. Vaccines are big business, so why would a business person, which lets face it doctors are, admit to the world that they may have made a mistake? Doctors are no longer the caring profession they once were, they are now salesmen working for the drugs companies.
It is far easier to ignore the truth and rake in the profits.
Support and care for the families with an autistic child is a battle daily. Many parents of Autistic children are unable to cope with the demands that they face. Often parents feel isolated from friends and family who do not understand. With no one to understand, they feel pressured to take the only way they can see out of their situation.
If governments do not do more to support families in need, this growing problem will not go away.