Another battle in the autism wars began with the apparent increase in ASD in the late 1980s,  which some people believed - as some still do - was really the beginning of an epidemic.  And that is where we find the first battle: a hotly debated argument as to whether the increase is/was real or not.

Some argue that this 'epidemic' does not actually exist, suggesting instead that any increase in numbers arose because of increased awareness, earlier diagnosis and/or better diagnosis.  Thus it is suggested that some of those now being diagnosed with ASD are children who were formerly considered to be mentally 'handicapped'; those previously assessed as having learning disabilities or even people with mild problems who formerly escaped diagnosis.   

All those arguments do indeed have a grain of truth in them but still confusion reigns.  This is because it seems that,  in some countries,  diagnoses are hard to get - partly (and shamefully) - because  financial implications are being taken into account.  Meanwhile,  in stark contrast, some doctors have  admitted to exaggerating such diagnoses, simply in order to help the families concerned access assistance both at home and in school.

My take on it?  One particular factor that is often overlooked seems particular significant.  It is the irrefutable fact that the rising incidence of ASD in the population has been matched by a rising incidence - both of ASD and other related disorders - within individual families.  Thus many families nowadays have not simply one or two children with ASD (as in the 1950s, 60s and 70s) but three, four or even more.  I find it hard to accept that such a thing can really be explained by increased awareness or better diagnosis, though  I shall be interested to hear your view.

And that rise in incidence is of course intertwined with another 'battlefront' in which we find a debate about the possible causes of the increase.  Thus some believe it is solely due to genetic causes, some that it is due to environmental factors whilst yet others suggest there is an interplay between the two.

Certainly it is clear from studies of twins that genetic factors play a prominent role in the development of ASD - at least in some children.  Even so,  whilst there is a possibility that genes alone might cause early onset problems,  it is a given that many children only develop problems in their second year when after a period of apparently normal development they begin to lose previously acquired skills, develop behavioral difficulties, obsessions and compulsions and more.  

Hard to see that such a regression could be solely due to inherited genes.  Surely it is more likely that such a child  begins life with some type of inherent weakness (possibly genetic) that is then precipitated or triggered by some environmental factor? 

As you know the search for an environmental culprit - or culprits - has been spread far and wide and various ideas have been mooted - including air pollution, premature birth and even prenatal exposure to some medications.  No real arguments about any of them for, as studies confirm - a number of them do  indeed contribute to the development of developmental difficulties.  Even so there is one factor that,  despite numerous studies, still attracts great controversy.  And that of course is the thing at the top of many people's list of potential culprits: vaccination/s - or some component thereof. 
Drug companies (or what is often termed BigPharma) seem to have taken the place previously occupied by the tobacco industry.  Indeed, given the vast amounts of money involved,  perhaps it is hardly surprising that it wields enormous financial influence - or that some people believe it may even be prepared to engage in a cover ups, suppressing information and/or quashing investigations.          
Thus it offers fertile ground for writers, filmmakers and conspiracy  theorists alike as shown in the films The Fugitive and The Constant Gardener (based on John le Carre's novel of the same name); two very different tales with similar themes.  Whilst initially they seem to be murder mysteries,  both have a twist: venturing into a murky world of drugs trials, cover-ups and conspiracy.   In contrast the film Mission Impossible II  focuses on an imaginary Australian pharmaceutical company whose financial objectives quash their morals; so that they not only developing a vaccine to combat the 'Chimera' virus, but actually create the virus in the first place.  

Does reality mirror art?  Certainly such tales strike a chord with many in 'the autism community' especially those who link the rise in ASD to vaccinations.   Thus there are those who believe that the pharmaceutical industry does not trial vaccines thoroughly enough; does not properly understand its products or their interactions and is even prepared to cover up mistakes.   Whether such views are true or false is a moot point at present for we cannot judge it fully until we have all the facts.  So what do we know? 

Clearly vaccines are designed to cause infection; triggering the immune system to produce the antibodies needed to fight and destroy the infection and making the body resistant to future attack.

So which type of vaccine is thought to be involved in triggering or causing ASD?  Even that is subject to debate because vaccine programs differ slightly from country to country both in timing and the type of vaccine used and, to date, different countries seem to have had different experiences. 

Thus whilst the diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis vaccine (DTP) has long been associated with various problems, there are many in the UK who think that ASD is a possible consequence of the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine (MMR),  whilst in the United States the additive thimerosal (a mercury based product) that used to be used in many vaccines (excluding the MMR), is often seen as the culprit.   

Want to know more?  Join me for an in-depth look at some aspects of the vaccine controversy in the next installment of The Autism Wars.

Adapted from The Source Code - the third book in new series The Autism Code.

Author's Bio: 

Stella Waterhouse is a writer and therapist who has worked children and adults with a variety of learning differences since the late 1960’s.

In the mid 1980s Stella worked at a residential home for approximately 40 adults with Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD), where she became Deputy Principal.

In the 1990s Stella set out to write a short book on the role of anxiety in autism., which at that time received little attention. Her research led her to investigate the causes of ASD as well as role of sensory disorders - particularly those of an auditory or visual nature.

The original ‘short’ book evolved into a much larger project and has so far spawned two full length books including A Positive Approach to Autism - Jessica Kingsley Publishers, plus a series of short books for parents and teachers all of which are currently available as e-books.

Stella is currently completing her new series The Autism Code. For more information on Stella and her products please visit