As autism burgeons worldwide, with the latest estimates of 1 in 50 children in the USA between 6 and 17 years old now affected, parents are imploring physicians to go ‘all out’ for early diagnoses to enable highly effective and timely nutritional and behavioural intervention.

The United States Department of Health estimates that cases of autism have increased 500% over the past five years, bolstering a growing body of opinion that genetically predisposed children are encountering a neurologically toxic environmental ‘trigger’ that disables them and disconnects them from the world (proposed triggers include heavy metal toxicity, pesticides, viruses, and parasite/viral/bacterial-induced toxicity).

In a paper presented at a recent national autism association conference in the United States, Dr Bryan Jepson (author of Changing the Course of Autism: A Scientific Approach for Parents and Physicians), claims that 80 000 chemicals have been introduced into the global environment in the last 20 years, none of which have been tested for neurological toxicity. This timeframe neatly coincides with the duration of the mushrooming global autism epidemic, he adds. Projections are that within a decade the prevalence will be as high as 1 in 22 people. One encouraging sign that increasing awareness of the ‘trigger effect’ may be starting to make a difference is that children who were first diagnosed in or after 2008 in the USA were more likely to have milder autism spectrum disorder (ASD) than those diagnosed in or before 2007.

According to Ilana Gerschlowitz, the director of the Star Academy of Learning in Johannesburg, which uses applied behaviour analysis (ABA) therapy for children on the autism spectrum (or with a related disorder), her academy gets 10 calls and/or e-mails a week from parents with tentatively or newly diagnosed children. Interestingly, in the Western Cape, 10 children a week are collectively diagnosed with ASD between Red Cross Children’s Hospital, Lentegeur and Tygerberg Hospitals. Accurate national autism statistics in South Africa are hard to come by but with just 9 specifically tailored schools in the entire country, an estimated 135 000 autistic children are not getting the specialised education they need. Other better-known facts are that ASD is four times more prevalent in boys than girls and that 1 autistic child needs the same amount of attention as 6 neurotypical children.

– South African Medical Journal, Vol 103, No 5 (2013)