Claims that “toxins” cause autism are part of a general trend of blaming ill-defined “toxins” for an array of health effects along with promises that detoxes cure those ailments. Read more in this article at Science-Based Medicine, Toxins: The New Evil Humours.
The first important thing to get out of the way is that people talking about toxins everywhere aren’t even using the word properly. “Toxicants” is a general term for any toxic substance. “Toxin” is a term for the subset of toxicants that are produced naturally by plants and animals. Improper use of the correct vocabulary is a sign that claims should be approached with skepticism.
The second important point is that the very idea of detoxing is based on a number of faulty premises not backed by science or evidence. Most importantly that there is no credible evidence that “detoxes” actually remove these supposed toxicants. Further reading:
Info from the National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences on autism
This is not to say that there isn’t real science about environmental exposures and autism. However, what scientists mean when they talk about environmental exposures and neurodevelopment is very different from what is discussed and promoted by speakers at AutismOne. This is discussed in this article from Forbes, How Marketers Use Fear of Chemicals for Profit: 3 Easy Steps, in Step 1.
While autism is primarily genetic in origin, there is evidence for some environmental factors that affect risk. From the NIEHS website on autism.
The clearest evidence for environmental risk factors in autism involves events before and during birth. They may include:
- Advanced parental age at time of conception
- Prenatal exposure to air pollution
- Maternal obesity or diabetes
- Extreme prematurity and very low birth weight
- Any birth difficulty leading to periods of prenatal oxygen deprivation to the baby’s brain
- Prenatal exposure to certain pesticides
Again, however, these factors alone are unlikely to cause ASD. Rather, they appear to increase a child’s chances for developing ASD, when combined with the aforementioned genetic factors.
Note three particularly important points here:
- Existing evidence is primarily for prenatal and perinatal exposures, not for changing exposures after diagnosis.
- These are not causative and are unlikely to cause ASDs on their own. They very slightly alter the risk of ASDs and probably only in a subset of people. For a discussion of what that means in practice, see this article about autism and maternal antidepressant use from Grounded Parents, Don’t Flush Your Meds: Antidepressants, Pregnancy and Autism.
- Only one of these items relates to the small subset of toxicants AutismOne speakers are talking about (synthetic chemicals) and it is not at all a blanket statement about all synthetic chemicals or pesticides (and does not include glyphosate). The other risk factors are all perfectly “natural”.