The Age of Autism: Feedback on the Amish 2

By DAN OLMSTED   |   June 16, 2005 at 10:45 AM
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WASHINGTON, June 16 (UPI) -- This is the second of two columns sharing reader response to our exploration of autism among the Amish.

The first part, published Tuesday, was devoted to criticism and caveats about such an approach -- which so far has turned up only a handful of cases of autism in the Amish population of the United States. Several of those cases occurred in the distinct minority of Amish children who have received immunizations. Four others were attributed by their doctor to exposure to environmental mercury.

Some parents and a minority of medical experts think vaccines -- in particular, a mercury-based vaccine preservative called thimerosal -- triggered a huge rise in U.S. autism cases in the 1990s; that theory is rejected by most mainstream medical groups. Thimerosal was phased out of vaccines beginning in 1999.

Today's column hears from readers who think "The Amish Anomaly," as we called it in the first report, is significant.


I have to tell you that I read your first article and I cried like a baby -- like I haven't cried in a very long time. Those of us that are "English" (non-Amish) already know what this article drove home to me in the most earth-shaking way. This was done to our kids. My son didn't have to be so autistic. We didn't have to have every moment of our lives and every cent we will ever make dedicated to saving our son's life. It is just more than I can even bear at times, knowing it could be stopped and knowing there are children out there right now that we are going to lose because of this.

My son just turned 8 and has made a lot of progress. We have done everything biological possible (but the money keeps running out) and he does a home Applied Behavior Analysis program. Three years ago he couldn't show you even four body parts and now he is doing simple math.

I am humbled every day by the strength of his conviction to learn and to talk.


While I agree with several of your readers who protest the "unscientificness" of your series of articles on the rate of autism in the Amish (a fact that was acknowledged at the outset), at the same time, it is not as if there is nothing more to indicate mercury as a significant factor (if not the culprit) in the relatively recent explosion of autistic diagnoses than the say-so of a handful of unscientific people.

We have the recent study completed at the University of Texas that indicates that areas with mercury pollution have a higher incidence of autism. There was the teething powder with calomel that caused Pink's disease (and took them 60 years to figure out the mercury connection). Mercury was eliminated from use in latex paint, in the making of hats, as a fungicide on seed -- and pulled off the shelf as merthiolate. It is too dangerous to allow for topical uses. Why would it be safe for internal use?

To say that there is no legitimate reason to suspect that thimerosal is a major cause, if not the cause, of autism is incredible to me. True there could be other factors involved and we know that there are other potential causes of autism, but given the knowledge and evidence that we already have to date regarding mercury, directly injecting it into the bloodstream of newborn infants -- especially when it is not even necessary -- is surely something approaching insanity.


I hope that medical professionals find your investigations compelling enough to research further.


I have been asking myself that question -- why aren't the Amish afflicted? I am the mother of a 7-year-old autistic son and live in Pennsylvania. I have been exposed to the Amish my whole life.

It seems at least once a week somewhere I go I see an autistic child or at least someone who has an autistic child. But never have I seen that in the Amish community.

I'm not one of those parents that are convinced that immunizations are the cause. But it seriously makes me wonder when, from what I heard, they do not get immunized or at least not as much.

Its not like they don't eat the same food as us -- I see them at Wal-mart buying the same stuff. So beside them having a purer bloodline, there is not that much of a difference between us besides the shots.


From the Web site adventuresinautism.blogspot.com, created by the parents of an autistic child:

This series begs the question, why the heck isn't Lancaster County crawling with investigators from the CDC and the Department of Health and Human Services? If I was Secretary Leavitt, that place would look like a scene out of "Outbreak."

Can someone get him on the phone and let him know that this is perhaps something the government might look into?

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E-mail: dolmsted@upi.com

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