We worry about relatives or friends dying from heart disease when they are obese, smoke a pack of cigarettes daily, never exercise, have high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels, and diabetes. If that special person reduced as many of these risk factors as possible, wouldn’t you worry less?
The same can be stated for autistic spectrum disorder (ASD).
There is clear, scientific evidence stating that developing autism is associated with prenatal and early childhood exposures to pesticides, air pollution, plasticizers (such as BPA), and mercury. Many other chemicals are suspected of neurotoxicity as well. Environmental exposure to common pollutants is being associated with climbing rates of autism to the point that now one in 68 kids are on the spectrum. All these exposures are risk factors. Shouldn’t pregnant women be worried?
The essence of the Precautionary Principle is that we should err on the side of caution if there is scientific uncertainty and a disastrous worst-case scenario is a possible outcome. The science is showing a strong correlation between ASD and chemical pollution. Less than 20% of the 80,000 or more chemicals in our environment are tested for developmental toxicity. How long should we wait for the tests to be done? Pregnant women should worry about chemical exposures within their control. And then they should control them.
Despite the ever increasing body of literature stating the risk factors for autism, many parents do not take precautionary measures to protect their babies, before, during and after pregnancy. There are many reasons why this can be so.
With cigarettes, it took years before what truths scientists knew about smoking as a major risk factor in developing illness to enter mainstream medicine. It took a long time for doctors to actually begin to educate their patients about the dangers of smoking. Eventually, it became common knowledge. Many doctors are still lacking the knowledge that common environmental factors affect birth outcomes and as a result, parents of unborn and newborn children aren’t aware of precautions that can be taken.
People don’t want to have their conveniences challenged. Prospective parents and parents of young children are challenged enough without having to worry about the significance of the children’s exposures from so many of their lifestyle choices. Making lifestyle changes is not easy to do.
“I try to only worry about things I have control over ” – Steve Nash
The point is – when it comes to protecting unborn and newborn babies from environmental toxins, who has the control here? Where are young parents getting their information from? And if they have it, what are they doing about it?
If you quit smoking cigarettes, you’ve eliminated one pollutant that causes illness. There are other measures that can be taken to change lifestyle in order to improve the odds of staying healthy for longer. One can make this an analogy for ASD. A young woman would be down on her mom for smoking in the room with her child because she knows that second hand smoke is bad. If she knew she could reduce the possibility of ASD for her child, what other precautions would she take, including changes in her own lifestyle?