In spite of the plethora of theories on the causes, no one really knows what is at the root of autism. There is no silver bullet solution that, if we removed one thing from a fetus's, baby's or child's environment, would solve the problem. There are a number of suspected agents, but I firmly believe that it is a combination of genetic predisposition and environmental factors that tips these kids over the edge into abnormal neural development.
One extreme example of toxin exposure to kids is that Inuit women have such high levels of PCBs in their breast milk that it would be categorized as hazardous waste by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) if they were evaluating it for human consumption." This high level has more to do with the fact that more toxins end up in the Arctic due to airflow patterns, but it does raise the question that if the mother is carrying a large body burden of toxins, how much is she passing on to the child — not just through breast milk, but also in utero — and what effect does it have on the developing brain?
Most chemical substances have been shown to be anywhere from 3 to 10 times more toxic to fetuses and newborns than to adults. And by the time you are six months old, you have already received 30% of your lifetime toxic load of chemicals. With PCBs, it only takes five parts per billion in a mother's blood to cause permanent brain damage to a fetus.
Food Additives, Artificial Colorants, Phthalates
One study also showed the relationship between common food additives and interference with the normal development of nerve cells. The combination of these additives had up to seven times greater neurotoxic effects on nerve cell growth than when applied individually. Additives like monosodium glutamate (MSG), aspartame and artificial colorants (quinoline yellow and brilliant blue) are what shows up in a child's bloodstream after your average snack and a drink. In 1985, the medical journal The Lancet reported a study where 79% of hyperactive children improved when artificial colorings and flavorings were eliminated from their diet.
Children who live in homes with vinyl floors, which can emit phthalates, are more likely to have autism, according to research by Swedish and U.S. scientists published in May 2010. This study of Swedish children was among the first to find an apparent connection between an environmental chemical and autism. If vinyl flooring is increasing the risk of autism, what other chemicals out there are contributing to not only autism but also ADHD?
Cluing in on ADHD
"Henry, you need to sit up. Henry, you need to get off the floor. Please be quiet. Henry, you're hurting me, please get out from under the chair.”
When my son began kindergarten it became painfully obvious that he had ADHD, particularly when he was compared with other kids his age. Up to that point, he had been in a mixed-year Montessori preschool where the vast majority of kids were several years younger. There were only two other students in his preschool who were the same age as him and one had behavioral issues as well, so it was hard to tell how much was due to age and how much was his own inability to sit quietly.
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The above scene played out at the introduction night before the first day of kindergarten, when all the students and parents got a chance to meet the teacher and see where the students' desks were. It was also a time for the teacher to explain to the parents her expectations as well as some administrative details. Henry was too agitated to sit at his desk, so he sat on my lap on the sidelines of the class, along with the other parents and siblings. The rest of his classmates were sitting at their desks, listening to the teacher and, for the most part, paying attention.
There were a few other students who were fidgeting, but they were nothing compared to Henry. He spent the entire time bucking around on my lap, sliding onto the floor, crawling under my chair and generally making it nearly impossible for me to pay attention to anything the teacher was saying. We ended up leaving after about 20 minutes since his agitation just kept escalating. I chalked it up to his anxiety about starting a new school, but I left feeling very frustrated and, frankly, quite embarrassed.
My Son Doesn't Have ADHD!
I never considered him to have ADHD, mostly because when he's interested in something he can concentrate on it for hours, barely moving a muscle. I always believed that his ignoring us when he wasn't interested in something was just his way of letting us know that he wasn't, well, interested. I think I was really just ignoring the symptoms because most of the time, when he wasn't quietly obsessing over something he liked, he was, mentally, somewhere else. I used to always describe it as my son being in an "unreachable place." Because it was, truly, like talking to someone whose mind was on another planet.
Our neurologist was the one who pointed out his attention deficits. Having ADHD (which is a neurobehavioral disorder characterized by the inability to pay attention, accompanied by hyperactivity and impulsivity) and being labeled as such can be quite an issue at school.
What does ADHD have to do with toxins? Well, there have been a number of theories and studies done on the effects of environmental toxins influencing the increase in ADHD in individuals, most notably artificial flavoring, preservatives and coloring as mentioned above. Additionally, synthetic food additives have been connected to irritability, aggressiveness and excitability.
©2011 by Deanna Duke. All rights reserved.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher,
New Society Publishers. http://newsociety.com.
This article was adapted with permission from the book:
The Non-Toxic Avenger: What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You
by Deanna Duke.
After coming to terms with the fact that the autism and cancer which had impacted her family were most likely the result of environmental toxins, author Deanna Duke undertook a mission to dramatically reduce her family's chemical exposure. She committed to drastically reducing the levels of all known chemicals in both her home and work environments. Follow Deanna's journey and learn about your day-to-day chemical exposure, the implications for your health, and what you can do about it.
About the Author
Deanna Duke is an environmental writer, urban homesteader, and author of the highly acclaimed environmental blog, The Crunchy Chicken (www.thecrunchychicken.com). The focus of her work is in educating others on environmental issues and explaining how she and her family have not only converted to a low-impact lifestyle, but also reduced their exposure to toxic chemicals in their home, work and school environments. In addition to her blog, Deanna also writes as an Expert Urban Homesteader for Mother Earth News Online and is the Personal Care Consultant for the eco-makeover television show, Mission: Sustainable. Visit her on Facebook at facebook.com/TheCrunchyChicken.