It is no surprise for those of us who work in the field of Special Education to learn that an estimated 1 in 88 children suffers from autism. As a special education lawyer, the prevalence of this disorder and the toll it takes on families is evident as I work day in and day out with parents of special education / special needs children. Yet despite the staggering number of people afflicted by autism, very little is know about its cause or causes.
Various theories about what causes autism have been, and continue to be, presented. People have theorized, for example, that vaccines somehow triggered the disorder. This theory, to the best of my knowledge, is not supported by scientific testing.
A recent piece in the New York Times Sunday Review Opinion Pages by Moises Velasquez-Manoff claims that “at least a subset of autism — perhaps one-third, and very likely more — looks like a type of inflammatory disease. And it begins in the womb.”
Mr. Velasquez-Manoff’s basic contentions are that perhaps a mother’s irregular immune response to infections increases the chance of autism in the child. Mr. Velasquez-Manoff explains: “It starts with what scientists call immune dysregulation. Ideally, your immune system should operate like an enlightened action hero, meting out inflammation precisely, accurately and with deadly force when necessary, but then quickly returning to a Zen-like calm. Doing so requires an optimal balance of pro- and anti-inflammatory muscle… In autistic individuals, the immune system fails at this balancing act. Inflammatory signals dominate. Anti-inflammatory ones are inadequate. A state of chronic activation prevails. And the more skewed toward inflammation, the more acute the autistic symptoms.”
It should be noted that Mr. Velasquez-Manoff is not a scientist, but a journalist. While the issues and questions he poses are very interesting, the conclusions he draws from his studies have not been scientifically verified. A critique of Mr. Velasquez-Manoff’s opinion piece can be found here:
The original New York Times article was published August 25, 2012 and can be found here: