First some backstory: I used to teach autistic kiddos. I worked at a school for severly autistic individuals. Their mission statement was “To prevent the institutionalization of children diagnosed with autism” or something along those lines. My college roommate and I were hired together and basically started this school’s early childhood program. I taught children aged 3-8, in fact I did intakes on kids before they turned 3. My very first intake (my beloved “L.F.”) started the day he turned 3. I taught at that school for 3 years, then moved on briefly to another school (whole other story there), then spent a year at yet another school. So I have just over 4 years of “in the trenches” experience as an early childhood special education teacher specializing in autism.
All of this experience happened 10 years ago. And wow, the things that have been discovered about autism since then. The myths that have been disproven, the practices that have been developed, changed, perfected. So today’s world of autism is hardly the one I knew back then… however…
When I was working at the first school, I developed what I called “Sisee’s Theory of Autism” after having many discussions with my fellow teachers about what we thought caused our students’ autism. Back then, with all of the confidence that came with being a teacher but not a mom, I was completely sure I was right. And while I now know I was wrong, wrong, WRONG about a lot of things, I still think my theory is bang on. Even now that I’m the mom of a kiddo with autism.
So here ya go:
Sisee’s Theory of Autism
Say 1000 kids are conceived with a genetic pre-disposition for autism. What I mean is, their brains are shaped in a certain way, the dna is primed, physically it’s all there from the moment egg meets sperm. BUT… something is missing. There needs to be a chemical reaction within the brain/dna/etc for development to take the “turn” towards autism. The substance that causes that chemical reaction is a substance found in the environment. BUT… for each one of those 1000 kids, there is a different environmental component. (I’m going with 1000 here to make the numbers easy to digest. But it could be 10 or it could be over a billion, I’ll leave that up to future scientists to figure out. For now just follow the concept!) So out of these 1000 kids, say 50 of them have mothers that come in contact with their environmental component while pregnant. So those 50 kiddos are born already displaying signs of autism. Say another 50 are exposed to their environmental component while in the hospital after being born. So those 50 kiddos are autistic from newborn on. Say another 50 are exposed to their environmental component before their 1st birthday. Another 50 before their 2nd birthday… But say the receptors for these environmental components die, or fade away, or are covered up as the brain gets older/matures/grows. So the remaining 800 kiddos, while born predisposed to autism, never have it manifested because they didn’t receive exposure to their personal environmental trigger before the receptors were “disengaged” (for lack of a better term). Is anyone following me so far? No? I’ll use an analogy:
You are walking down the street through a residential neighborhood and you find a garage door openner on the sidewalk. There is no identification on it. How do you find which house it belongs to? Every house you can see has a garage with a closed door. So you push the button repeatedly as you walk up and down the street. Eventually one of the doors responds and opens. You just linked that door to it’s openner… make sense? The houses all had garage doors = kids born with genetic predisposition for autism. Garage door openner = environmental trigger causing a reaction.
Ok, so my point to all of this: first off no I’m not saying that all children are born with a genetic predisposition for autism. But I think science will find that the number is significant. And there could be hundreds, thousands, etc. of environmental triggers. That part will probably be harder to prove. But I believe that it could be so many things… mercury in tuna that a pregnant mother eats, gasses emitted from the carpet in the infant room at a daycare center, possibly a chemical contained in an MMR shot a child receives at 15 months old (yes I went there…). Do I believe that eating tuna fish causes autism??? No. Do I believe children in daycare are at a higher risk??? No. Do I think that shots cause autism??? NO. I think it’s waaaaaay more complicated than that. I do believe that each child diagnosed with autism has been exposed to their personal environmental trigger, and that environmental trigger caused a chemical reaction in their brain, and from that moment on their brain began developing differently. There is no way (at this point) to predict what the environmental triggers may be, but there’s also no reason to discount claims that certain substances might have had a hand in children suddenly displaying symptoms of autism.
For us: I believe that whatever Bubba’s trigger was, I was exposed to it while I was pregnant with him. I think that he was born this way, and I love every bit of him just the way he is. So far it seems that Monkey hasn’t run into his environmental trigger, but I believe it’s still a possibility given his age, so I’m keeping a close eye on him. There’s no way of predicting what his trigger might be, so he’s current on all of his vaccinations and he doesn’t live in a bubble. I’ll leave the predicting part up to the scientists.