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Autism, More Questions Than Answers

November 19, 2008

By Erika Weisensee

A new study suggesting that autism rates are higher in rainy areas has only increased anxiety for concerned parents. But before you start packing your bags, approach these studies with caution.

The research linking rain and autism was conducted by economics professors at Cornell University, not by autism experts. Rather than taking the word of “junk science,” Genevieve Athens, Executive Director of the Autism Society of Oregon (, says people should refer to the work of experts in the field, like the Autism Research Institute (, an agency devoted to researching autism since 1967.

Autism is not a single condition but a complex collection of disorders that fall within the category of “autism spectrum disorders,” or ASDs. Autism affects about one in 150 births, is more common in boys, and can often be diagnosed by age three. Though there is no known cause for autism, there are dozens of theories.

Parents and many in the autism community have long been concerned about a link between autism and thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative once used in several vaccines. Athens is not necessarily against vaccines, but “the government has got to give us safe vaccinations,” she says.

Conscientious pediatricians should have pulled all vaccines containing mercury, but Athens is concerned that there was never a mandatory recall of those vaccinations. “Talk to your pediatrician,” she warns, “and make sure shots don’t contain mercury.”

According to The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and other health organizations, science does not support a link between thimerosal in vaccines and autism. Yet, parents of children with autism who have noticed the onset of symptoms after vaccinations continue to question the possibility of a connection.

The Autism Society of Oregon (ASO) helps people dealing with autism across the spectrum, from the lowest functioning to the highest functioning and everyone in between. From finding a support group to accessing early intervention, ASO helps guide families through all aspects of autism.

Research shows that early intervention is critical for children diagnosed with autism. Athens would like to see every pediatrician do an automatic screening in 18 month olds. Until then, she says, parents must continue asking questions and taking the lead in communicating with pediatricians about their child’s development.

For more information about the Autism Society of Oregon, visit or call 503-636-1696.

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Discuss this article

Kay November 19, 2008

Erika, so many of your articles give me something to think about as you have with autism and many of our more “recent” illness and diseases. I always wondered if some illnesses have a dateline onset that can be studied which could link it to an environmental cause. For example, have we always had autistic children but those who showed the symptoms were said to be “high strung” or “a recluse”. Or, is it a recent phenomenon, and if so could they not more directly link it to whatever environmental or physiological changes have taken place during that time period.

elaine November 19, 2008

Thanks for the information about Autism. I had heard before about the mercury in vaccinations but your reminder brought it to my attention again.

Erika November 19, 2008

Kay, I enjoy your articles, too. And, great question! According to my research, autism is both diagnosed more and occurring more for reasons that are not yet known. Finding the causes for autism deserves more research and more support! The Autism Society of Oregon is a great source for information – thank you!!!

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