Autism, ADHD, Climate Change and our Environment: Connecting the Dots


I had an opportunity recently to sit down and talk to Dr. Robert Melillo, an internationally recognized author, professor and researcher with an expertise in neurology, rehabilitation, neuropsychology, neuroscience and nutrition, parenting and childhood developmental disorders.

With Autism Month just behind us many are still reeling from the release in early 2013 of staggering statistics that point to seemingly epidemic numbers of children with neurological brain disorders, including data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that tells us 1 in 50 American kids are within the autism spectrum, three times the rate of only ten years ago. As well, according to the CDC 1 in 5 school age boys and 11% of school-age kids over all have an ADHD diagnosis. As a reminder and according to studies by the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, we know that we cannot treat and look at children as “little adults” when it comes to patterns of illness. We know that children have unique patterns of environmental exposure and developmentally determined susceptibilities that increase their risk of disease following toxic environmental exposure relative to that of adults.

Getting at the root of and understanding the causes behind these disorders is more important than ever. As Dr. Melillo pointed out to me, this it is not only important so that we can help our children who are being diagnosed in record numbers, but it is also necessary so that we can be better prepared to help all these children as they become adults and we are confronted with an entire generation in significant numbers who will be living with these disorders.

My interest is personal, as my son has ADHD, and while undiagnosed by a professional, I am sure that I am also on the ADHD spectrum. My interest is also professional, as my awakening on the pervasiveness of chemicals in our lives, through my involvement with Safer Chemicals Healthy Families and their current Mind the Store Campaign, as well as with Women’s Voices for the Earth has helped me “connect the dots” between the FACT that there have been over 80,000 chemicals introduced into our environment since the 1976 Toxic Substance Control Act few if any of which are monitored for their linkages to health issues. In fact, only 200 of these 80,000 chemicals have been looked at in relation to their negative and pervasive health impacts, with only 5 of these 80,000 chemicals now regulated in the United States. In other countries, where new chemicals have to be proven safe before they can be used, we in the US need to PROVE they cause harm before they are taken off the market.

Dr. Melillo confirmed for me that in his opinion, we are not seeing these huge increases of diagnosis of children with neurological brain disorders because of over diagnosis, nor has genetics had enough time to play a significant role. Rather, he and many others are coming to the conclusion that environmental factors must be a significant cause and do have a clear correlation. We have a childhood epidemic on our hands, and the beginning of an adult one.

Some exciting and positive news I heard from Dr. Melillo was that there are a variety of studies being peered reviewed and tests that soon will be coming to the market that will help us identify the wide range of chemicals in our bodies and then help us determine what are in fact safe levels so that we can then figure out how to “detox” and lessen our exposure; unfortunately immature organs and developing bodies of our children make detoxifying and eliminating certain toxins much more difficult.

Another interesting insight from Dr. Melillo: as you go up the social economic scale, there appears to be an increase in autism and ADHD. According to Dr. Melillo, in Silicon Valley, the number of children on the autism spectrum is 1 in 15. Dr. Melillo tells me this is being linked to something called the “Geek trait.” Simply, that as more extreme dominate left brain people connect (ie engineers, software developers etc) and have kids and as these people are exposed to a variety of environmental stressors, studies are showing an increase in ADHD and Autism in their offspring…interesting…

So, what can we do to help our kids that have these disorders and to perhaps lower our chances in the future of having a child with autism or ADHD, outside of trying to choose a “more creative type” of partner if we tend to be on the “geek side”…? A few pointers from Dr. Melillo:

1. Start the conversation with peers and health care professionals.
2. Eat organic when you can and stay away from the dirty dozen, as pesticides are likely a real part of the problem.
3. “Get in training” before you have a child just like you would in preparing for any type of challenge. Detox your body, males and females, a year in advance of trying to have a child.
4. Modify the risk factors by eating healthy and lowering exposure to chemicals that you wear, breath, ingest and touch.
5. Educate yourself and educate your elected officials. Education and understanding, as well as the development of proper assessment tools and policies are key.
6. We need more Government funding to support studies that look aggressively at the linkages between environmental stressors, chemicals and neurological disorders, with a spot light on children.

As we don’t address these issues and as these disorders become more prevalent, not only are there costs to us as individuals and families – both emotionally and financially – but there are also real costs to society; as educating and creating accommodations for this increasing segment of our population grows. These costs are real and from what scientists are telling us, likely avoidable with knowledge and adequate policies in place.

Connecting the dots to climate change? Many of these chemicals are derivatives of petrochemicals, as the industry has looked to diversify and create growing markets for it’s products. The proliferation of plastics as well as many fertilizers, that have at their base, petrochemical derivatives, are two areas which allow petrochemical based toxins to enter our bodies, the air we breath, the water we drink and our food supply.

It’s Do Something Wednesday here at ClimateMama. Check out the Mind the Store Campaign and learn about easy steps you can take to get the Hazardous Hundred Plus chemicals off of store shelves and away from our children’s growing bodies.

Dr. Melillo latest book, “Autism Explained, What the Science Reveals About the Autism Epidemic — How We Got Here, and What Parents Can Do Now” was released in early 2013.


Climate Mama

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