Mental Health  
 April 13, 2015

Autism Awareness Month


Ready or not, the month of April has arrived! Taxes, showers and fools in abundance, this month does not exactly have the best reputation. No need to worry though, despite it’s potentially troubling aspects, the month of April also has some pretty incredible positives. Flowers begin to bloom, the weather gets warmer, new beginnings flourish, and last –but certainly not least — the month of April is Autism Awareness Month! Autism Awareness may not be the first association most people make with this happening fourth-month of the year, but for me it marks an opportunity to shed light on a cause that is particularly near and dear to my heart.

I have personally had an awareness of autism for as far back as my memory takes me. My father, a Ph.D.-level Board Certified Behavior Analyst specializing in autism treatment and research, is the Executive Director of Somerset Hills Learning Institute, a school for children with autism and my mother is the school’s nurse. Having the privilege of being frequently involved with the Institute led me to develop a deep understanding of the tremendous effect autism has on the lives of those diagnosed and their loved ones. Over the years I have witnessed the beautiful blessings these children bring to the world around them. I have seen the often-agonizing difficulties that accompany the diagnosis — including but nowhere near limited to medical, financial and behavioral challenges and I have observed incredible transformations made possible with a tirelessly dedicated team of people (teachers, family, medical personnel to name a few) operating from the science of applied behavior analysis in an individualized, research-based approach.

For those unfamiliar with what it means to be a person with autism spectrum disorder, the DSM-V defines autism by way of a spectrum involving a range of developmental deficits across cognitive, social, emotional, and communicative domains, as well as abnormal behavioral patterns such as hypo/hyper reactivity to stimuli, atypical repetitive movements, sounds or rituals. Although each person with autism displays skill deficits across this range of diagnostic criteria, each has their own unique presentation of symptoms (Autism Speaks Inc, 2015). “For example, although communication skills are not as they should be, one child may display no speaking skills while another can speak — and even hold conversations — but with a limited range of topics or limited range of intonation. Similarly, we see peaks and valleys across cognitive skills. One child may be able to read at three but demonstrate no comprehension while another may be able to comprehend sophisticated material, in spite of being only 3 years old. And then, of course, there may be another 3-year old not yet reading.” (K. Brothers, personal communication, March 20, 2015).

Despite the extensive amount of science and research that has improved treatment over the last half-century, this is only one piece of the puzzle pertaining to this ever-more-so prevalent diagnosis. An alarming, increasing trend in prevalence rates has been revealed through recent studies. We now know that the rate of 1 in 5,000 children diagnosed with autism in the US in 1975 (Seneff, 2014), has risen to 1 in 68 in 2010 (CDC, 2015). Even more frightening is the prospect of this continuing to be a perpetually-rising rate into the future. Although many studies have demonstrated correlations between the increase in autism and factors such as parental age, heightened awareness, environmental factors, and genetics, much remains a mystery when it comes to understanding an exact cause or how to prevent it.

More recent studies point to environmental factors as a larger part of the equation than initially suspected. Stephanie Seneff (2014), Senior Research Scientist at MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, brought to light the (quite literally) gut-wrenching correlation between the toxic effects of glyphosate toxicity and known biomarkers of autism. Also included in her disturbing findings was a bio-chemical explanation of the toxic effects of specific elements that are used in production of most food products found in the typical American household. Glyphosate is the herbicide found in roundup, the most commonly used herbicide in the world. Seneff (2014), elaborates on the strong correlation between the rise in glyphosate use in the US and the rise in autism from the early nineties to today. She goes on to describe in detail how glyphosate ingestion leads to sulfate synthesis disruption, chelation of necessary minerals, and promotion of aluminum absorption. She also identifies biomarkers for autism including disrupted gut bacteria, low serum sulfate and certain mineral deficiencies as well as evidence correlating toxic exposure to aluminum and various neurological diseases. She states that evidence-based research suggests a strong link between GMOs and gastrointestinal disorders and talks about the known link between neurological disorders and GI disorders.

This startling information in combination with the already widespread hype regarding the link in a number of diseases (not only autism) to alterations and certain chemicals used in the production of common American products, was enough for me to immediately consider purchasing some overalls and exploring my options for farming food for myself and loved ones. My next thought was how truly irrational as 1) I am a New York City resident (enough said); and 2) I’m not sure how I feel about the overalls trend (no offense if you are a fan).

Okay but seriously, the reality of the situation is that despite any of the above correlations and research, there are still so many uncertainties when it comes to the cause and prevention of autism. It does appear, however, that the autism community is closer than ever to finding answers so desperately needed relating to these issues and this is excellent news to say the least!

There is an incredible amount of hope from spreading awareness as well as impeccable strength within this community of people bound together by devotion to the common goal of improving the lives of those affected by autism through science. Research has already given us a sophisticated level of understanding how to help. Science will continue to empower us with a foundation from which to work to prevent this debilitating disorder and to propel us forward into new treatment discoveries. My excitement for Autism Awareness Month only intensifies as I imagine the possibilities associated with increased awareness about this very special cause.


DSM-5 Diagnostic Criteria. (2015). Retrieved from

Data and Statistics. (2015). Retrieved from Seneff. (2014). Autism Explained: Synergistic Poisoning from Aluminum and Glyphosate [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from

Seneff, S. (2014). Autism Explained: Synergistic Poisoning from Aluminum and Glyphosate

[Video file]. Retrieved from YouTube website