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Christian Counseling - Vaccinations and Autism

Last week a prominent European medical journal retracted a 1998 article regarding the link between childhood vaccinations and autism. The article, when published, resulted in parents declining vaccinations for their children. As a result, diseases that were essentially eradicated due to vaccinations began to come back. Measles, for instance, saw a significant resurgence in England as a result of vaccinations being declined.

Although future studies have not supported the link between vaccinations and autism, people have continued to believe in the results of the study published in 1998. The lead researcher, Dr. Andrew Wakefield, has been the subject of much controversy regarding his research methods as well as a potential financial incentives regarding his research. The official discrediting of his research by the Lancet, the journal that published the article, will hopefully begin to close the door on the theory that vaccinations are causing autism.

The question remains as to what is the cause of the increase in the diagnosis of autism. One of the difficulties is that the research that is being done is largely correlational in nature. While there may be many factors that are correlated with the increase in the diagnosis of autism, it is important to remember that correlation does not imply causation. Another way of saying this is that just because the rooster crows and then the sun comes up does not mean that the rooster is causing the sun to come up.

The most likely explanation for the increase in the diagnosis of autism is that the diagnostic category of autism itself has changed. The autistic spectrum has broadened. In other words, there is a larger umbrella which now covers more children. The diagnostic category now contains children with very mild forms of the disorder as well as children who are more severely autistic. While more children are being diagnosed with autistic spectrum disorders, there are fewer children being diagnosed with language disorders, for instance. Many of the children with these issues are now falling under the diagnostic umbrella of autism.

When dealing with a diagnosis as devastating as autism, it is important to do careful research to look for answers. However, before we decide on an environmental cause, consider the increase in the diagnoses of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease. Again, some would like to argue that there is some type of environmental toxin at work. However, the most likely explanation for the increase in the diagnoses of these diseases is that life expectancy is increasing. As we live longer, people who would have died of other illnesses prior to reaching an age where they would develop Alzheimer's or Parkinson's are now surviving longer only to eventually develop these devastating diseases.

The causes of Autism is an issue that many people are passionate about. I am thankful that people are passionate about the health and well-being of our children. Our passions need to be guided by reason. As we pursue a greater understanding of the causes of autism and its treatment, we would be wise to consider all possibilities. However, we must also be willing to eliminate certain possibilities should the evidence not support them. Finally, when working with patients, I tell them that I am willing to turn over any rock in order to understand and ameliorate their difficulties. The only thing that I ask of them is that we turn over the big rocks first.

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