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Up Front May 2004: Volume 1, Number 2
   

Letters to the Editor

AUTISM
I was troubled by this article (Autism, The Epidemic) for a few reasons, and regret it was published. Schreibman is quoted as both personally witnessing the rise in prevalence of autism, yet questioning the reality of an epidemic. Vaughan asserts unequivocally that autism is genetic and biological, yet elsewhere quoted experts admit they have no account of the cause. If there is an epidemic that sure disproves a genetic account.

Also you and Vaughan surely have personal experience with mothers who have tense, cool relations with their infants, so why is it so easy to dismiss Bettelheim’s evidence? At any rate, there is no doubt that the mother-autistic infant relationship is severely defected whatever the cause of autism. Finally, and my list could continue, just because a patient is reinforced by the chance to roll a toy car doesn’t mean he or she doesn’t want candy, too, or doesn’t want it more than wanting a chance to play cars.

I’ll speculate that an autistic epidemic is real after all. I ask these experts, what has changed in the last few decades? Many parents are suspicious of vaccinations and so am I, both on account of their views and the fact that vaccinations have increased and have started at an earlier age. Who likes getting stabbed by frightening needles? People vary in how they cope with this trauma, but surely some infants could come to place blame on their mother. This is the most obvious theory in the world but is not yet entertained by any UCSD expert. Autistic indeed!
David Case, Ph.D., ’81

Christopher Vaughan should have done some homework on the topic of autism and a possible connection to mercury in childhood vaccines, and to vaccines in general before writing on this topic.
The primary findings noted by research from Eric Courchesne, that (1) “the part of the brain called the cerebellum is underdeveloped in autistic people”, and (2) “autistic children tend to have larger heads”, are BOTH consistent with recent clinical and molecular research done by Hornig M. et. al. (Molecular Psychiatry 2004;9:833-45). In animal models Hornig found that mercury exposure, in doses similar to that received from vaccination, led to reduced number of Purkinje cells (that make up the cerebellar cortex) and larger head sizes, as well as other findings. For a summary of this research by Mark Geier go to: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/
eletters/ 114/3/584#1375
.

And I am not sure how Vaughan comes to the conclusion that “it’s not clear that the number of autistic children has really increased at all.” And Professor Laura Schreibman doesn’t “believe that the rate of autism has really increased by a factor of 60.” Yet in the introduction to this very article it states “Where 20 years ago, autism was diagnosed in only one in every 10,000 children, the National Institutes of Health now estimate that autism will affect one in 166 children.” That is precisely a factor of 60.

In the future, by all means please promote UCSD research, but do so without providing misinformation about critical issues. Actually researching a topic beyond the UCSD research being highlighted would be my first suggestion.
Dave Foster, Revelle, ’86

Chris Vaughan Replies: The relationship between autism and the mercury-based preservative (thimerosal) historically used in vaccines has been the subject of a long and often emotionally charged debate. I could easily write a number of articles on just this issue. In this particular article I presented not my own opinion, but a distillation of the opinions of UCSD scientists and the vast majority of the scientific world. Last year the Institute of Medicine, which is part of the prestigious National Academy of Sciences, issued the results of a multi-year study that sifted through all research on this issue and ultimately rejected any causal connection between vaccines and autism. (http://www.iom.edu/project.asp ?id=4705). The institute’s report singled out the studies of Mark Geier, whom Mr. Foster cites in his letter, as having “serious methodological flaws” that make his results “uninterpretable.”

The reason for the rising number of autism diagnoses has also been the source of vigorous debate. On this issue, however, there has been no consensus, which is why I wrote that it’s “not clear” that the rate of autism is rising at all. What is clear, and researchers don’t dispute, is that the rate of autism diagnosis is 60 times higher than it was 20 years ago. What is not clear is whether that represents a real increase in autism. There may have been just as many people with autism 20 years ago, but most were diagnosed as having mental retardation or some other condition. Conversely, the rate of autism diagnosis may be boosted now because there are an increasing number of services to help people with autism.
Christopher Vaughan

STILL UNIDENTIFIED
The photo in the Looking Back article brought back major memories. I wrote the original grant application for the SECC with Jim Beckley, who was the Dean of Students at the time. I knew/worked with nearly all of the folks in the photo, although I can’t identify the unidentified. By the time that photo was taken, I was working full time for Larry Barrett in Housing and Food Services, having graduated after completing a special studies (“199”) major in organizational development and change, based in part around the experience of the SECC.
Thanks for the fine work.
Michael Duca, Muir, ’72

CORRECTION
Will the real Ron Larsen stand up.

I just received my first copy of @UCSD and would like to take the time to say great job. However, I also would like to inform you of an error on page 15 under the short entitled “China Syndrome,” the photo is of Kevin Ring, not Ron Larsen, of whom the news clip is about. As a recent UCSD graduate and Ron’s son, I just thought I would point out the mistake.

Nathan Larsen, Muir, ’05

Editor’s Reply: When we’re wrong, we’re wrong. Apologies to both Kevin Ring and Ron Larsen.

Feel the need to wax eloquent or spout off? Write to us at:
alumnieditor@ucsd.edu.


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