Don’t Call It Autism

Confusion surrounding the term “autism” is surely nothing new. The word was first used in 1911 by Swiss psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler, who presumably invoked the Greek autos, meaning “self.” Bleuler was describing the behavior of many schizophrenics, whereby they withdraw into their own inner world. But, it would take the brilliant Dr. Leo Kanner, founder of child psychiatry, to identify the disease as it is understood today.

His breakthrough paper, entitled “Autistic Disturbances of Affective Contact,” appeared in 1943. It was hailed by many, not the least of whom was Nobel laureate Erwin Schrödinger (Physics 1933), who noted that Kanner “…thought what nobody has yet thought, about that which everybody sees.”

A follow-up paper (“Early Infantile Autism 1943-1955″) would appear in 1956, in which Kanner and his associate Leon Eisenberg elaborated on Kanner’s original concept of autism and the five features he considered to be diagnostic:

  • A profound lack of affective contact with other people
  • An anxiously obsessive desire for the preservation of sameness in the child’s routines and environment
  • A fascination for objects, which are handled with skill in fine motor movements
  • Mutism (consistent failure to speak in situations where talking is expected) or using a sort of language that does not seem intended for inter-personal communication
  • Good cognitive potential shown in feats of memory or skills on performance tests, especially the Séguin form board

Within the same paper, the authors distilled down the diagnostic criteria to these two features…

1.     A profound lack of affective contact

2.     Repetitive, ritualistic behavior, which must be of an elaborate kind

In fact, they were quite confident that if these two features were observed, the rest of the typical clinical picture would also present. It was also noted that this autism might be observed in one to two children per 10,000. The numbers on today’s autism, of course, are far higher–1 in 110, with some sources citing an incredible 1 in 50 children!

How can we explain this astounding increase in incidence? Perhaps autism is being overdiagnosed, but why? A growing group of experts, led by Michael J. Goldberg, MD, insist that Classic Kanner autism–a genetically-based psychological/developmental disorder–is not what the vast majority of the affected kids have today. Contrary to Kanner’s precepts, most of today’s “autistic” kids are affectionate, and have lost gross or fine motor skills. Yet, cursed with this so-called developmental disorder, some children are making miraculous recoveries.

More than that, today’s “epidemic” of autism–as it is called by nearly everyone–flies in the face of the rather obvious point that there has never in history been an epidemic of any developmental or genetic disorder. Indeed, how could there be?

On the other hand, there have been countless epidemics of organic medical diseases. Isn’t it time, Goldberg suggests, that we accept that today’s autism is not psychological or developmental, but a medical disease. A medical disease, he says, that mimics certain symptoms of classical Kanner autism. Goldberg insists that today’s autism is caused by a dysfunction in the neuro-immune system, and often by secondary neurotropic viruses that impact the neuro-immune system and brain.

He continues, “Illnesses such as autism, ADD/ADHD, and chronic fatigue syndrome all might have different names, but are actually variations on the same theme: Neuro-immune dysfunction syndrome (NIDS).” A host of technical papers from prestigious institutions now share this point of view. Sadly, though, change in the medical establishment comes slowly.

Goldberg laments that “Instead of looking for the correct answers, instead of focusing on at this point what can only be understood as a disease (not developmental) process, the system continues to fund researchers trying to figure out and understand autism as a developmental disorder. This is why so little progress has occurred despite the millions of dollars being spent.”

While the medical establishment is beginning to acknowledge his methods, some still fall back on the “objective study/clinical trials” mantra. But Goldberg counters, “Where are the studies, where is the data showing all these children [under conventional therapy], all these families have to resign themselves to some permanent dysfunction, incurable disorder? Based on what objective data, based on what objective studies are we committing so many children and families to this bleak prognosis, a very bleak future?”

No doubt, today’s autism needs a real-life Martin Arrowsmith. I nominate Dr. Goldberg.

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16 responses to “Don’t Call It Autism

  1. My son’s symptoms have seemed organic or neurological to me rather than psychological in origin. That is, his slowness to speak and his repetitive-perseverating behaviors occurred long before I had any real chance to foul him up with expectations (high or low) or anything like that.
    My son is usually termed Asperger’s, or he has been up to now but Asperger’s is apparently on its way out. He certainly does not have the Kanner class of autism and I’ve known a few children who do. Could his difficulties, which have followed him into young adulthood, be eased or eliminated by an effective anti-viral regime? That would be a tremendous thing. How much more so for those whose symptoms are far more severe than my son’s are.
    The excerpt above does not discuss an effective therapy and it may be too early to expect one. It’s true that if you keep looking for robins’ eggs under logs, though, you’ll be disappointed.

    • @MT:

      Suggest you check out Goldberg’s protocol. He has helped many kids.

    • It is different. Being an Aspergian myself, after the latest redefinition, we’re all Autistic now. The problem isn’t that it’s a disease. The problem is trying to draw a ludicrously narrow box called “normal”. Aspergian coping mechanisms, which consist mostly of creating and following set rules towards behaviors instead of learning it automatically, lend themselves especially well towards engineering or craftsmanship. While our interactions aren’t always smooth, it’s not that bad.

      The problem is greatly exacerbated by our culture which has enabled people to isolate themselves with only books and non-personal interaction.

      • “Only books and non-personal interaction.” You say that like it could be a problem!
        I don’t know if Asperger’s encompasses a degree of social awkwardness or if the two are just often found together, but that element is often the hard part. Planet MT Geoff is a nice place but I do have to get along with the residents of Planet Earth also.

  2. simple answer, these kids are mentally retarded in one way or another and it affects their emotional and social interactions and behaviors.

    It’s not about some immune neurological disorder and i certainly would warn against anyone who throws things around like autism/chronic fatigue/whatever else as some kind of systematic scientific and evidence based approach.

    when a writer suggests that it’s just too complex or mysterious and one must jump to the next level–I would suggest tautological thinking and hopeful wishing.

    Autism is an epidemic because there are kids being given a new label.

    there are autism parents and autism professionals with a stake in something other than just plain disabled.

    So retarded kids show characteristics of the classic description of autism–does that surprise anyone who doesn’t have a personal or professional stake int he matter?

  3. GoneWithTheWind

    Autism is an epidemic because the government “rewards” parents and schools that deal with autistic children. Mental illnesses and deficiencies that in the past were never called autism or part of asbergers syndrome are now proudly declared to be autism. If you want to reverse this “epidemic” stop paying for the treatment and care of it.

    • A larger deal is that instead of a child just being shy, quiet, or hyper, they are being forced into sitting in their desks and their entire behavior is designed to go into little checkboxes. Don’t check all the boxes and you’re sent with a referral to the psychiatrist.

  4. I agree that there is a “reward” for the diagnosis of autism, but that may not be the only motivation. Society more and more insists everyone must be alike and those who are different are somehow sick or damaged. Children and adults who don’t embrace social networking, don’t enter into school activities, etc are labelled as “autistic” (spectrum disorder, usually). The people who used to be eccentric and from whom we learned all kinds of interesting things in life are now “wrong” and broken. Except for the classic autism, this does not seem correct.

    There are actually numerous parents who have “cured” their children of autism because they refused to accept the condition as permanent. Listening to the authorities on medical conditions is not always best.

    (Now I am hearing the commercial for dry eye “disease”. Next, we will have wrinkle “disease”, balding “disease”, dry skin “disease”…..)

    • to Reality Check and BofH —
      Perhaps there’s also an element of trying to lift a stigma of bad behavior and replace it with a diagnosis instead of a judgment.

      • The diagnosis IS a judgment. And one that will mark the child for their entire life. Terming something an “illness” allows people to behave in any way they want with no responsibility. People use this excuse all the time–I can’t work, I’m “sick”. I can’t be blamed for yelling at my kids–“I’m sick”. I can’t be blamed for gambling away my house and car–“I’m sick”.

        Why label a child autistic rather than accepting that some people are less social than others, some have less focus, etc? Labeling IS a judgment, but one people seem to be truly proud to have made.

        Right now, one can be proud to be autistic, addicted to food, addicted to gambling, impotent (note the sales of Viagra), peeing too often, not sitting still (ADHD) and a multitude of other behaviours. We’re all just “sick” and that’s how it is.

        No–I am eccentric, often anti-social and “not like other girls”. I am this way because I choose to be. I do not find the idea of labeling me “ill” anything but an insult. We are not all alike.

  5. Reblogged this on Petrossa's Blog and commented:
    Exactly my thoughts. The reason why autism diagnosis rises is because it’s ill defined, the definition describes autistic symptoms not autism. Evidently the profession is rather confused as to what autism actually is. This pollutes the patient base, which in turn makes all research invalid since it’s unknown if participants in studies has autism or only autistic symptoms. This circular logic is the source of present day lack of common cause findings. The common cause is simple, altered white matter in the fetus leads to specific altered neural pathways resulting in a different structure of grey matter due to the neural feedback being directed differently. Which in turn reinforces white matter structures. After birth the job gets finished via environmental input.

    The origin of this is imho evolutionary try-outs of getting rid of the hindrance of limbic system supremacy in societal living.

    Where a million years ago the limbic system was perfectly capable to handle all events, nowadays it’s completely outclassed and outdated resulting in negative survival indices. Emotional/limbic reactions are a serious threat to human existence.

    • You’re making a nonsensical distinction between autism and autistic symptoms. Autism is a set of behaviors. Autism IS the symptom. You cannot treat autism as a disease any more than you can treat a fever as a disease.

      As for the rest of your post, you are jumping to a lot of conclusions there

      • Autism is a neurlogical condition which also leads to a different state of mind, another kind of human. Autism is more than the symptoms currently in DSM et al which isn’t even aware of this. Luckily i’m capable to have an open mind and think freely rather than within the narrow confines of status quo. All i state you can easily find supported if you do the same i do, read any book/scientific article related and somewhat related (agenesis of CC for example) during 40 years.

      • Medicine calls a set of symptoms a disease: fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, sjogren’s syndrome. Even “chronic dry eye” is now called a disease in the advertisements on television. So far, a fever is not called a disease, but give it time.

  6. Much of the reason autism is “rising” so fast in the USA is that more and more mental diseases once classified as something else has been reclassified autism.

  7. Call me Revindicated&Visionary : These results provide novel evidence for an autism-positive schizotypy axis, and highlight the importance of recognizing that psychological variation involving reduced social interest and functioning may have diverse causes.

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