FEAT DAILY NEWSLETTER Sacramento, California
"Healing Autism: No Finer a Cause on the Planet"
July 28, 2001 Search www.feat.org/search/news.asp
Experts: Redefine Autism as Systemic Illness
Condition thought to be triggered by assault to immature immune system
[By Susannah Benady. Thanks to autismnet.]
Quebec City - Researchers are calling for a radical new definition of
autism in the wake of evidence presented here that autism is in fact an
autoimmune disease, rather than a mental handicap.
This was the consensus among doctors at the forefront of research into
the physiological complications that affect many children with autism and
autism spectrum problems. They presented their findings at the second
International Medical Conference on Autism held here in April.
No longer can the condition just be considered a psychiatric or
neurological disorder, they argued. Autism had to be seen as a systemic
illness that has gastrointestinal, immunological, endocrinological,
psychological and neurological complications.
Dr. Jeff Bradstreet, a pediatrician and medical director of the
International Autism Research Centre in Palm Bay, Fla., said virtually all
children diagnosed with autism also have some other significant abnormal
He said that is why the term "autism" is misleading and should be
replaced with a phrase that better describes the child's physical condition.
"Autism is a psychiatric term," he said. "I consider 'toxic
encephalopathy' a better description because it implies that there is
something we can do if we detoxify the individuals."
Dr. Bradstreet's research centre specializes in treating children with
autism spectrum disorders by investigating their underlying or coexisting
physiological condition and treating that with a combination of conventional
drug therapy and nutritional supplementation.
The aim is to treat the underlying condition, and also to detoxify and
strengthen the immune system.
In cases where the immunological vulnerability or toxicity can be
identified, and then responds to treatment, children show a marked
improvement in their ability to relate to others, as well as in their
academic performance, he said.
Evidence presented at the conference by physicians researching the
physical symptoms of autism should change the way doctors understand and
treat children suffering from the disorder.
They now believe that autism is triggered by an environmental insult
or toxicity that damages the immature and fragile immune system of a fetus,
infant or very young child. This causes the immune system to react against
The result is a condition that has a multisystem effect, not just on a
patient's neurological system. Most frequently, it is the gastrointestinal
system or "second brain" that shows symptoms.
Many of the children also have a long history of susceptibility to
infections and experience hormonal imbalance, such as hyperthyroidism and
early puberty. Some children even display coagulation and circulatory
Research presented at the conference showed that tests on blood and
tissue samples from autistic children have detected autoantibodies to
proteins in the brain, gastrointestinal system and other organs.
As Dr. Bradstreet puts it: "The child becomes the victim of his immune
Dr. Andrew Wakefield of London's Royal Free and University College
medical school, who has investigated the gastrointestinal symptoms of more
than 150 autistic children, said these children "show an aberration of the
immune system in some ways similar to people with AIDS."
The speakers also agreed that autism happens more often in families
suffering diseases of the immune system such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus,
inflammatory bowel disease and even asthma and eczema. The incidence of all
such diseases has markedly increased in recent decades, they note.
According to research by Dr. Anne Comi and colleagues at Johns Hopkins
Hospital division of pediatric neurology in Baltimore that was cited at the
conference, there is a nine-fold increase in the incidence of autism in
children born to mothers with immune illnesses.
Dr. Ed Yazbak, a pediatric infectious disease specialist from Boston,
said research will not find a chromosome responsible for autism. He is a
former professor at Brown University now studying the medical histories of
children with autism in an effort to determine what triggered their
"Research will show there is a genetic predisposition to autism. What
we have to find is the environmental insult," he said.
Physicians treating children diagnosed with autism must recognize the
children are suffering a medical illness.
This is particularly noticeable in the more recently identified
"regressive autism" that many parents have linked to their children's
immunization with the mumps-measles-rubella vaccine, Dr. Yazbak said.
He called on pediatricians to reclaim care of the child with autism.
"It is a pediatric illness that affects the whole child and it needs a
pediatrician to take care of the whole child," he said.
"The pediatrician needs to co-ordinate consultations with the
psychiatrist, gastroenterologist and occupational therapists.
"If pediatricians do not adopt the new thinking on autism, it will be
left to crooks and charlatans to exploit desperate parents," Dr. Yazbak