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It’s no secret that autism and ADHD rates are skyrocketing. Every single year we see dramatic increases in diagnoses of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or ADHD, and with these observed increases comes a need for more awareness and education about how these diagnoses are most often made and what environmental factors are contributing to the problem. These will be explained below.

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Autism Could Go Well Beyond Just Genetic Factors

“Children today are sicker than they were a generation ago. From childhood cancers to autism, birth defects and asthma, a wide range of childhood diseases and disorders are on the rise. Our assessment of the latest science leaves little room for doubt; pesticides are one key driver of this sobering trend.” – October 2012 report by Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA) (source)(source)

In recent years a wealth of information has emerged which has entirely changed the way we think about these disorders. Although the cause for autism is unclear and it is highly unlikely researchers will ever find one single explanation for its development, it is becoming increasingly evident that autism may be the result of the modern day human lifestyle. There are a number of significant studies that should be ringing alarm bells in the medical and scientific communities in this regard.

A couple of years ago, Andrey Rzhetsky, Professor of Genetic Medicine and Human Genetics at the University of Chicago, published a study in the journal PLOS Computational Biology with researchers at the University of Chicago; it revealed that autism and intellectual disability (ID) rates are linked to exposure to harmful environmental factors during congenital development. His team looked at data that covered one third of the United States population, as well as more than 21 countries. They found that environmental lead, medications, and a large variety of other synthetic molecules (like pesticides, mercury, aluminum and more) all wreak havoc on the fetus. These substances were also linked with congenital malformations of male genitalia,  which is strongly correlated with autism. He explains that “during pregnancy there are certain sensitive periods where the fetus is very vulnerable to a range of small molecules . . . [and] some of these small molecules essentially alter normal development.” (source)(source)

Another study, from the University of California, Davis, determined that pregnant women who live in close proximity to land and farms where chemical pesticides are/were applied experience a two-thirds increased risk of having a child with autism spectrum disorder or some other developmental disorder.

The study examined associations between pesticides — including organophosphates (a main ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide) — that were applied during the participants’ pregnancies and a later diagnosis of autism or developmental delay in their children.

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The study was published online this summer in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.(1) It concluded that proximity to organophosphates alone, at some point during gestation, was associated with a 60% increased risk for ASD:

This study validates the results of earlier research that had reported associations between having a child with autism and prenatal exposure to agricultural chemicals in California. While we still must investigate whether certain sub-groups are more vulnerable to exposures to these compounds than others, the message is very clear: Women who are pregnant should take special care to avoid contact with agricultural chemicals whenever possible.  – Janie F. Shelton, a UC Davis graduate student who now consults with the United Nations; lead author of the study (source)

Many people like to criticize these observations with the argument that correlation does not mean causation, but they fail to use the Bradford Hill Criteria and consider just how much information correlates with the evidence at hand.

“How could we have ever believed that it was a good idea to grow our food with poisons? . . . As part of the process, they portrayed the various concerns as merely the ignorant opinions of misinformed individuals — and derided them as not only unscientific, but anti-science. They then set to work to convince the public and government officials, through the dissemination of false information, that there was an overwhelming expert consensus, based on solid evidence, that GMOs were safe.” – Jane Goodall

The list of concerns brought up by these researchers is long, as is the list of studies that explore this topic extensively. We’ve written about this multiple times, and you can find more information to further your research by going through the following articles:

Parents: What You’re Not Being Told About Autism & What Causes It 

What Parents Need To Know About Monsanto: “By 2025 One In Two Children Will Be Autistic

Again, there are multiple factors in our surrounding environment that could be contributing to the prevalence of autism.

Autism Is A Broad Spectrum 

Autism comprises an extremely broad spectrum of symptoms; your child could be diagnosed with an ASD without ever displaying abnormalities in their behaviour, while on the other end of the spectrum, your child might be unable to communicate at all. It has also been suggested that some cases of autism might even represent an evolutionary leap, since many people diagnosed with ASDs display some remarkable abilities, and are capable of intellectual feats the likes of which few could achieve. Some children who have been diagnosed with an ASD might even have an ability, rather than a disability, but our limiting use of language and labels has prevented us from recognizing these children. A child who has been diagnosed with autism in school, for example, will immediately be labelled as disabled and seen in that light by their teachers and peers; they will then carry the burden of lowered expectations for the rest of their lives.

ADHD diagnoses tell a similar story.

Most of these children are diagnosed based on behaviour rather than physiology; rarely is a child’s brain scanned to determine if there is a real problem. If a child has trouble paying attention to something they are not interested in, they may be diagnosed with ADHD. If a child has trouble ‘socializing’ in a ‘normal’ fashion they can also be labelled, even though no physical differences in brain structure have been identified.

Did They Tell You This About The Pharmaceutical Industry? 

overThe quote to your left comes from Harvard Medical Professor and former Editor-in-Chief of The New England Journal of Medicine, Dr. Marcia Angell. She joins a long and growing list of some very ‘credible’ people within the medical profession who are trying to tell the world something important. She has said on several occasions that it is no longer possible to believe much of the published research, or even to rely on the judgement of trusted physicians or authoritative medical guidelines. (source)

Dr. Richard Horton, the current Editor-in-Chief of The Lancet —considered to be one of the top ranked medical journals in the world — has made a similar assertion, stating that “the case against science is straightforward, much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue. . . . Science has taken a turn towards darkness.”  (source)

The reason why these professionals are saying such things is because, as Dr. Angell puts it, “the pharmaceutical industry likes to depict itself as a research-based industry, as the source of innovative drugs. Nothing could be further from the truth. This is their incredible PR and their nerve.”

“The medical profession is being bought by the pharmaceutical industry, not only in terms of the practice of medicine, but also in terms of teaching and research. The academic institutions of this country are allowing themselves to be the paid agents of the pharmaceutical industry. I think it’s disgraceful.” – Arnold Seymour Relman, Harvard Professor of Medicine

The percentage of children with an ADHD diagnosis continues to rise; it went from 7.8 percent in 2003 all the way up to 11.0 percent in 2011. According to a recent analysis, ADHD in children has surged by 43 percent since 2003. (source)

The quotes above do not reflect idle conjecture. Clearly these few (out of many) examples are from people who know a thing or two about the industry, to say the least, and it is troubling that people still believe pharmaceutical corruption and the manipulation of scientific literature are conspiracy theories.

The most recent example of this kind of corruption occurred when an independent review found that the commonly prescribed antidepressant drug Paxil is not safe for teenagers — all after the fact that a large body of literature had previously suggested this. The 2001 drug trial that took place, funded by GlaxoSmithKline (also maker of the Gardasil Vaccine), found that these drugs were completely safe, and used that ‘science’ to market Paxil as safe for teenagers. The study came from John Ioannidis, an epidemiologist at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

Ioannidis is also the author of the most widely accessed article in the history of the Public Library of Science (PLoS), titled “Why Most Published Research Findings Are False.” As the name would suggest, his paper was an exposé on the shoddy science and bias, among other problems, which underpin the bulk of today’s scientific research. And this was more than 10 years ago; the problem has worsened significantly since then.

ADHD is classified as a mental disorder, which is interesting because the definition of these types of disorders in particular has been shown to be heavily influenced by the pharmaceutical industry. American psychologist Lisa Cosgrove and others investigated financial ties between the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) panel members and the pharmaceutical industry. They found that, of the 170 DSM panel members, 95 (56%) had one or more financial associations with companies in the pharmaceutical industry. One hundred percent of the members of the panels on ‘mood disorders’ and ‘schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders’ had financial ties to drug companies. The connections are especially strong in those diagnostic areas where drugs are the first line of treatment for mental disorders. In the next edition of the manual, it’s the same thing.

“The DSM appears to be more a political document than a scientific one. Each diagnostic criteria in the DSM is not based on medical science. No blood tests exist for the disorders in the DSMN. It relies on judgements from practitioners who rely on the manual.” – Lisa Cosgrove, PhD, Professor of Counselling and School Psychology at the University of Massachusetts, Boston

“The very vocabulary of psychiatry is now defined at all levels by the pharmaceutical industry.” – Dr. Irwin Savodnik, an Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the University of California at Los Angeles (source)

These are definitely some facts to take into consideration when it comes to dealing with your child’s ADHD diagnosis. It’s a ‘disease’ — one which I myself was diagnosed with — that I personally don’t even think is real. I think it was made up strictly for the purpose of making money.

ADHD: Disorder or Creativity? 

The idea that children are being wrongfully diagnosed for the sake of profit is, of course, highly disturbing, not least because recent work in cognitive neuroscience has shown us that both those with an ADHD diagnosis and people dubbed ‘creative thinkers’ have difficulty in suppressing brain activity within the “Imagination Network” region of the brain. There are no school assessments to evaluate creativity and imagination; these are admittedly difficult to measure and, accordingly, receive very little attention in the education system. Yet a lot of research is pointing to the fact that people who show characteristics of ADHD are more likely to reach higher levels of creative thought and achievement compared to those who don’t show these characteristics.

“By automatically treating ADHD characteristics as a disability– as we so often do in an educational context– we are unnecessarily letting too many competent and creative kids fall through the cracks.” – Scott Barry Kaufman, Scientific Director of The Imagination Institute in the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania (source)

While brain scans of people diagnosed with ADHD do show structural differences, it is a scary reality that a large portion of ADHD diagnoses are derived from the observations teachers make in school. Too often, children are diagnosed based on perceived behaviour alone, and then encouraged to take medication right away. These children are not actually tested or scanned; they and their parents are simply told that they have ADHD.

“I think the big mistake in schools is trying to teach children anything, and by using fear as the basic motivation. Fear of getting failing grades, fear of not staying with your class, etc. Interest can produce learning on a scale compared to fear as a nuclear explosion to a firecracker.” – Stanley Kubrick

It’s Okay If Your Child Struggles With Attention — This Doesn’t Mean They Have A Disorder

Many doctors and teachers are already aware of this, but I would like to reiterate the point: just because your child struggles with paying attention in school or sitting still in the classroom does not mean there is an underlying disorder to blame. It’s perfectly natural for your child to want to be active and to want to focus on things which actually interest them. While low grades might come as a result of not paying attention, it is possible for a 2.0 student to know more than a 4.0 student; grades don’t necessarily equate with intelligence. In many cases, they reflect an ability to follow rules and memorize information — both important skills, but perhaps less important than critical thinking and creativity.  Some students may have a better ability to buckle down, pay attention, and do their work, while other, equally as intelligent students, may struggle with this model. This, again, is perfectly normal, and could actually be a marker of something really positive. If your child is being held back and being denied even the possibility of entering a gifted program based on the fact that they have attention issues, then there is problem.

New data from the National Center for Learning Disabilities shows that only 1 percent of students who receive services for their apparent learning disabilities (some of which are completely and unquestionably valid) are enrolled in gifted or talented programs. The report concluded that “students with learning and attention issues are shut out of gifted and AP programs, held back in grade level and suspended from school at higher rates than other students.” (source)

 


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