A number of you have asked about the reaction to my paper on autism and ionizing radiation delivered at an international conference on autism in Cyprus: http://autism360cy.com/
My paper argued for a systemic approach to understanding autism that deconstructed the idea that the body is separate from its environment: https://www.dropbox.com/s/vdicvwgf18eg9q9/00%20Autistic%20Ontologies%20and%20the%20Open%20Genome%20Paper%20November%201%202016.pdf?dl=1
The paper argued that findings on genetics that have dominated research into autism have revealed no universally detectable alleles or mutations, although children with autism have been discovered to have more micro-errors in their genomes, such as single base deletions and other transcription errors, than their parents or unaffected siblings.
So, a genome with more errors is one predictor of autism, and probably a range of other disorders depending upon which genes are affected.
Now errors are always occurring and being fixed. There is a natural “mutation” rate in genetic expression and that rate of deviation is what allowed evolution to occur. Mostly mutations don’t have much impact or have negative impacts. Sometimes they confer advantages even while they create other susceptibilities.
So, for example, the cystic fibrosis mutation I carry (only one) helped me survive a bad case of typhoid I contracted traveling abroad in 2008 and mitigated the GI symptoms from whatever nasty bacteria/virus that has afflicted me since traveling last week.
But get too many mutations and the system’s operations will be compromised.
The environmentally mediated genetic causes of autism are simply the beginning of a more complex discussion about the body and the environment because gene expression is impacted by the epigenome (see https://www.genome.gov/27532724/), whose operations shaping gene expression are governed by all manner of environmental inputs (physical, biological, psychic, cultural, built environment, etc.).
Too much disruption and the genetic/epigenetic systemic processes create disorder, particularly at critical periods in development, such as during the neonatal and early childhood periods.
I think that the role of ionizing radiation hasn’t been addressed despite its proven role in causing mutations and epigenetic effects.
The people who heard my presentation at the conference were very receptive to my open systems approach to autism and the potential role ionizing radiation might play, along with other environmental “insults,” in producing the de novo mutations found so commonly in the genomes of kids diagnosed with the disorder.
I shared with the audience the significant spike in autism diagnoses among the incoming 2015/2016 California kindergarten class.
People shook their heads and not because they disagreed with my argument of a potential link between Fukushima fallout and autism rates.
Indeed, one immunologist educated me about how immunological effects triggered by exposure to ionizing radiation (and other pathogens), could create epigenetic effects that could lead to autism.
People shook their heads because they recognized the politics that prevents scientists from even researching the role of ionizing radiation in producing autism.
So, that was how people reacted to my presentation.
Despite this rather pessimistic experience, my biggest take away from the conference was the power of individuals to make significant and positive social change.
For example, one participant at the conference from the Philippines in his 20s took his life savings and invested in a school for teens with disabilities who could not fit into the school systems available there (see http://www.illcphilippines.com/index.php/about-us).
After growing his school from a staff of two to multiple locations, he started a program in some of the worst slums in that nation aimed at teaching mothers of kids with disabilities how to treat them therapeutically. His program has been so successful at helping extremely vulnerable populations that it was recently awarded a World Bank grant, with plans for replication in other very poor areas. 6 Minute Video of his story (last 3 minutes focus on intervention in slums https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JIfOUQhPReA
A mother in Egypt followed a similar path in establishing a school for people with disabilities after finding inadequate services were available for her son in Cairo.
Many people have dedicated their lives to helping the most vulnerable among us.
That was inspiring.