**Companion Resources Newsletter**
edited by Paul D. Leichty
Volume 4, No. 5 May 2002
Autism generates plenty of headlines these days. An increasing number of people are coming into contact with persons with autism and trying to understand this fascinating but debilitating disease of the mind. In this issue of the Companion Resources Newsletter, I will highlight some of the most recent information I have found on autism.
Companion Resources has an ever-increasing set of annotated links on autism in addition to more general links on various aspects related to disabilities. Feel free to browse for even updated information on autism and related conditions at https://companionresources.org/Learning/Autism
Time magazine is the latest major news source to do a cover story on autism. Entitled “The Secrets of Autism” the April 29, 2002 issue contains a helpful overview of the latest thinking on autism and a number of informative related articles. Catch the online version at
Unfortunately, the link for an earlier Newsweek cover (July 30, 2000) has now expired, but you may still be able to obtain a copy of the magazine through your local library.
Autism is a condition that affects primarily communication and socialization. It is thought that there are a combination of factors that produce autism, including hereditary and environmental factors. However, no one is sure.
Controversy thus reigns on the causes and potential “cures” for autism. Two of the debates that are currently raging involve mercury as a cause and secretin as a cure.
Two sites I looked at are among many labeled “Autism and Mercury.” One, at http://www.autism-mercury.com/ [Note: site no longer in existence when checked on 14 January 2007] asks the question about autism and mercury: “Coincidence or Cause and Effect?” The creators of this website, who are parents and friends of persons with autism, hope to provide the latest information, foster discussion, and promote research on the link between the mercury found in childhood vaccines, through a vaccine preservative called Thimerosal, and the apparent increase in the number of cases of autism. Another site is a scholarly paper on the subject [unfortunately, the original link is dead, but there are a number of pages listed at http://tinyurl.com/uks5y. While some parents and a few scientists are convinced there is a link between autism and mercury, the bulk of the scientific community remains skeptical.
The secretin controversy seems to have begun in the late ’90’s when a New Hampshire woman noticed profound improvement in her 5-year-old son with autism after he was given a drug for a stomach complaint. The drug contained secretin, a hormone found naturally in the body that helps break down food. Since that time, she and others have been on a crusade to do more research on the subject. So far, there are stories here and there of similarly miraculous results, but the scientific studies do not seem conclusive. To learn more about secretin, visit http://www.autism.org/secretin.html and get a balanced picture of the entire controversy in an article by John Wills Lloyd of the University of Virginia at
These are just two of the many issues surrounding autism. A good general source of information and starting point for a variety of links is AutismInfo.com, which is run by parents of a child with autism. Updated daily, AutismInfo.com contains a wealth of information on many issues. Go to http://www.autisminfo.com/ to find out more.
Autism exhibits a wide range of characteristics and the strength of those characteristics varies widely. Some persons with autism have profound mental retardation whereas others have brilliant minds. Some are unable to communicate at all whereas others simply communicate differently than the norm, leaving people wondering why they are so strange.
Interest in autism resurfaced in the ’80’s as the earlier work in the ’40’s of Leo Kanner and Hans Asperger was compared. Kanner’s name eventually became associated with “Kanner’s Syndrome” or what is sometimes called “classic autism.” Asperger, on the other hand described a similar set of characteristics, but among a group of persons with higher than average intelligence. This latter condition, with autistic symptoms but above average intelligence, is known as “Asperger Syndrome” and in 1994 was officially added as one of the “Autism Spectrum Disorders.” The debate still rages, however, as to whether Asperger Syndrome is just another name for what others call “high functioning autism.” A complete website dedicated to the complexities of Asperger Syndrome is at http://www.aspergersyndrome.org/.
Finally, a whole raft of medical interventions, treatment methods, and living arrangements continues to grow around autism.
* Parent groups such as Families for Early Autism Treatment (FEAT) at http://www.feat.org/ press for early intervention for all children at risk.
* Dr. O. Ivar Lovaas of the Psychology Department of UCLA, has founded an Institute (http://www.lovaas.com/) to continue his 35+ years of research in teaching pre-school aged children with autism, pervasive developmental disorders, and related developmental disabilities.
* Pyramid Educational Consultants, Inc. has formed around an alternative method of teaching communication skills to persons with autism called PECS, the Picture Exchange Communication System (http://www.pecs.com/).
* Barry Neil Kaufman and his family, including a son who made a miraculous recovery from autism, continue to promote their Option Institute