Fact-Checking Baylor College of Medicine on Autism
BCM just published a blog article entitled “Breaking down myths and truths about autism“. Here I fact-check the claim made by that article.
BCM- LABELED ‘Myth’: People can “get” autism after receiving childhood vaccines.
BCM CLAIM: “Studies involving hundreds of thousands of children have failed to show a link between vaccines and autism.”
FACT: “VACCINES” NOT STUDIED. First off, the last two words. “Vaccines and Autism”. None of the studies cited by the BCM blog article has ever been conducted that measured the risk of autism in vaccinated vs. unvaccinated children. Not one. Most looked at the contributed risk of a single vaccine. Not all of the vaccines on the schedule have been tested for association with autism.
FACT: Some studies HAVE reported association between vaccines and autism. BCM cherry-picked only studies that report no association, and that’s not science.
FACT: THE INDIVIDUAL STUDIES ARE BY FAR MOSTLY UNDER-POWERED (TOO SMALL). The number of children involved in all of the studies is completely irrelevant. The power of each individual study to detect an association between vaccines and autism is a function of the sample size (the number patients) found in each group in that study (i.e., whether the individual study has sufficient statistical power), whether the study was designed appropriately to test the correct hypothesis, and whether the study itself was conducted objectively and without bias. Let’s look at each of these:
FACT: The sample sizes (the number patients) found in each group in the cited cited by the BCM blog varies but many are so small that not even a single person with autism would be expected to have been found in the groups being studied.
FACT: None of the studies conducted were designed to, and therefore could not test, the correct hypothesis, which is: Vaccines May Cause Autism in Some People. That is, the genetic susceptibility hypothesis. To test that hypothesis, a study should consider (1) genetics of the children, and their parents and siblings, and (2) environmental exposures, including vaccines. The study should be designed to not only test for the significance of individual genetic variation already found to the weakly associated with ASD (there are >850 last time I counted), and for the significance of the contributed risk due to vaccines; the study must also not “correct for” co-morbid conditions like seizures and others that share a fundamental biological link to autism via the shared impaired pathways, and the study must also test for the genetic x environment interaction term. The full model would look like
Autism Risk = F(Genes + Vaccines + (Genes x Vaccines)), or
AR = F(G+V + (G x V))
And zero studies have been conducted that were designed this way.
FACT: Many of the studies the BCM links to have grave problems in their design, and evidence of malfeasance and fraud, including removal of results showing a link between vaccines and autism.
BMC CLAIM: In fact, more and more evidence reveals that children later diagnosed with ASD exhibit brain differences in early infancy or even before birth – well before receiving any vaccines.
FACT: After removing thimerosal from the childhood vaccines (except for the ACIP recommended flu shot), CDC began recommending vaccination of pregnant women – against FDA approval, and against product insert warning. They preferentially recommended flu vaccination with thimerosal for pregnant women. A little later, due to the failure of the TdaP vaccine program, ACIP recommended vaccination of pregnant women with TdaP, every vaccine, every time. So “well before receiving any vaccines” is incorrect. Maternal immune activation is associated with neurological disorders. And early brain differences do not in any way rule out a role for later vaccines, but could be a biomarker indicating increased risk of ASD from vaccines. No study of these early changes has been conducted that withheld vaccinations from children with early differences, and therefore no data exists to support the claim that these children would have developed autism without the impact of vaccines.
BCM CLAIM: ASD tends to run in families, and scientists have identified more than 65 genes known to be involved, many of which are important for healthy prenatal brain development.”
FACT: ASD traits tend to run in families, over 850 genes have been identified as potentially contributing risk, not 65, no gene explains >1% of ASD risk, and the risk could well be risk of developing ASD and other neurodevelopmental disorder due to vaccination. So familial patterns of inheritance of risk do not rule out vaccinations.
BCM LABELED MYTH: Autism cannot be diagnosed until a child is four or five years old.
BCM CLAIM: “ASD can be reliably diagnosed as early as two years of age, and even earlier in some cases. However, most children with ASD do not receive the diagnosis until after four years of age. Early diagnosis is important as it allows for access to specialized services to help children reach their full potential. While efforts are being made to improve early identification of ASD, some children may not show significant social difficulties until they are older and social demands exceed their capabilities. ”
FACT: DSM-5 specifically requires an early indication of ASD-like traits before the age of 2. Autism can be completely genetic, but I (and studies) estimate that risk at far less <1% of all cases, because one person would have to have inherited 2-3 mutations in key proteins involved in brain development or neuronal function. Early diagnosis is important so interventions can be made to reduce immunoneuroexcitotoxicity, and that includes for many parents opting out of further vaccination.
BCM LABELED–MYTH: People with autism only have autism.
BCM CLAIM: “Sometimes people with ASD have additional diagnoses (comorbidities) that make early detection and treatment more challenging. Common comorbidities associated with ASD include intellectual disabilities, attention deficit/hyperactive disorder (ADHD), anxiety, speech and language disorders, sensory sensitivities, sleep disorders, and epilepsy. Distinguishing between symptoms of these conditions and ASD can be difficult. However, appropriate diagnosis and treatment of comorbidities could lead to quality of life improvement for both the individual and their family.”
FACT: Many of the co-morbidities that exist and that are “additional diagnoses” actually share the same pathophysiological mechanisms, including molecular disorders. The original VSD study found increased risk of “any neurological disorder” with increasing exposure to vaccines, including ADHD. Seizure disorders in particular share a common biological pathways as ASD. Steps taken to reduce exposures to environmental toxins, and to reduce chronic brain inflammation will likely help many of the neurological conditions found to the co-morbid with ASD.
BCM LABELED MYTH: All people with autism have an intellectual disability (ID).
BCM CLAIM: Just like the rest of the population, there is actually a wide range of intelligence in people with ASD. Although some people with ASD do meet criteria for ID, many others have IQs in the normal range, and some have above-average intelligence. It’s important to keep in mind that cognitive deficits, ID, and giftedness are not symptoms of ASD, and that there are many factors that need to be considered when determining the level of support an individual with ASD might need.”
FACT: Correct on the fact the ID is not always seen in ASD, in fact, some people with ASD have higher-than average intellect. The break-down of “level of support” needed by an individual with ASD, unfortunately, ignores the fundamental fact that the biological (environmental) and development basis of ASD is largely the same independent of ID. Variation in intellect has a strong genetic component in humans. The break-down is really for insurance purposes to determine who needs what types of support, and does not lead medical interventions designed to reduce chronic brain inflammation, or reduce exposure to neurotoxins including metals in vaccines, or remove metals already resident in the brain and other tissues in people with ASD.
BCM LABELED-MYTH: There are evidence-based, biomedical treatments (such as special diets, dietary supplements) that address the core social-communication impairments and restricted or repetitive behaviors of children with autism.
BCM CLAIM: There are no evidence-based biomedical treatments for the core symptoms of ASD. Families of children with ASD need to be very careful with regard to their potential choices of unproven, non-evidence-based interventions for their children. There are countless unproven “treatments” endorsed by personal testimonials rather than by data from scientific studies proposed to families who will consider doing anything to help their children. Families can review information about scientifically supported interventions for autism spectrum disorder from the Association for Science in Autism Treatment.
FACT CHECK: There are not “countless unproven treatments”, in reality, families have had to resort to trying out various protocols because the neurodevelopmental community has not been funded by NIH to study means of reducing vaccine-induced encephalopathy-mediated neurodevelopmental disorders. Nevertheless, science has marched on, and studies have been published those show promising result of the use of folinic acid (instead of folic acid), use of Vitamin D and other approaches. It’s a shame that the entire neurodevelopment community has not used the observational experiences of families who believe they have seen improvements as a source of hypotheses to test in studies of biomedical interventions that could improve the quality of life and life expectancy of children and adults with ASD. Experience counts, observations count. Science begins with observation. Ask the so-called “Anti-vax” parents. Host a conference. Let them teach you what they know. You’ll be shocked and inspired and tens of studies will leap out at you. The families feel abandoned. I will be happy to moderate. I created and run the Neurodevelopment Research Reform consortium to help inspire and empower and run the very studies that BCM says does not exist. Many of those options are mentioned in this article. Plus see this Medscape article on how vitamin use during pregnancy may reduce ASD risk. (Beware folic acid, study methyl folate, or folinic acid, watch the A and up the D3 – see why here).
BCM-LABELLED MYTH: Participating in autism research won’t help my child or my family.
BCM CLAIM: “Much of what we know about ASD, we know because families have participated in research studies. At Baylor and Texas Children’s, research is an important part of clinical care and an essential part of our overall mission. Many studies offer a direct benefit to participants and their families, including additional information that may inform their medical care, treatments, or educational programming and connections with other affected families. Ask your doctor about research opportunities during your next visit and view current ASD research opportunities at Baylor.”
FACT: It is remarkable to see BCM call upon parents to enroll their children in studies for the treatment of ASD! It is a good and necessary thing. For years, the Neurodiversity movement shamed anyone who talked about treatments for autism. Any doctor who said they had treatments was labeled a quack. Now, the vast majority of rational scientist understand more about the biological basis of neurodevelopmental disorders; they are less likely to adopt phenomenological theories of ASD. But many are afraid to fully embrace the agenda to remove aluminum from the brain and to reduce exposure of children to mercury and aluminum from vaccines and lead from water. Risk of neurodevelopmental disorders and other health issues from these exposures is cumulative, not competitive, and therefore the presence of aluminum in other sources such as food and water is a cause for greater, not less, concern over the high amounts of aluminum from vaccines. Pediatric dosing of aluminum of vaccines is not based on safety science, an the HHS and FDA made errors in their determination that the levels of aluminum in childhood vaccinations are safe.
BCM LABELED MYTH: Individuals with autism cannot, or are unwilling, to form meaningful relationships.
BCM CLAIM: “Although individuals with ASD often have difficulty with social interactions, many individuals have the desire to build close relationships and friendships. Interventions that target social skills and communication can help teach individuals the skills needed to make and maintain relationships with their peers.”
FACT: People with ASD are lovable, can love, do love, and absolutely have feelings and emotions that last a lifetime. It seems likely that the ability to express those feelings in the same way as neurotypicals is different. So, correct, BCM. But please note that biomedical interventions will likely be found to help increase ABA efficacy exponentially. That’s what is needed most: combined treatment and therapy studies that measure the individual and joint (interaction term) contributions. Total health outcomes should be measured as well, and treatment, interventions and changes in medical practices should be encouraged at the earliest possible age to prevent possible adverse events of suddenly adding sustained de novo neurogenesis to, say, a pre-teen brain that already has stronger-than-typical long-term connections among brain regions. The concern over treatment inducing other neurological disorders must be attended. Safety first.
James Lyons-Weiler, PhD
Allison Park, PA
April 11, 2018