Just yesterday, David Kirby wrote this in the Age of Autism blog:
...Dr. Julie Gerberding and others took to the airwaves to proclaim that Hannah’s case was, 1) Extremely rare, 2) An inherited, genetic condition that would have lead to regressive encephalopathy anyway, and 3) Without any bearing on the etiology of ASD or any relationship whatsoever to the court’s other cases of autism (which Hannah did not have, we were falsely told: She just had “autism like features.”)Kirby's special interest is in the causes of these "autistic-like features." Mine, though, is in the definition of autism - which, it seems, is somewhat more up for grabs than I'd realized.
...On March 29, Gerberding told CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta that, “If a child was immunized, got a fever, had other complications from the vaccines, and (is) pre-disposed with the mitochondrial disorder, it can certainly set off some damage…. Some of these symptoms can be symptoms that have characteristics of autism. I think we have to have an open mind about this.”
Here's my reasoning:
With the exception of Fragile X and Rett syndrome, both of which are capable of diagnosis through genetic tests, there are no biological tests for autism. In fact, in the diagnostic manual (called the DSM-IV), Autism Spectrum Disorders and Asperger syndrome are described entirely on the basis of their symptoms (or "features").
It seems to me, therefore, that if a person has autism-like symptoms, that person can reasonably be diagnosed as... autistic.
But what if we know that, for example, that individual was perfectly typical until he fell and hit his head - and that the autistic symptoms were brought on by brain damage? Is that person still autistic? Or do we now describe that person as "brain damaged with autism-like symptoms?"
Or...what if the autistic symptoms existed UNTIL the person stopped eating grain - and it became clear that the autistic symptoms were caused by a food intolerance? Is this person to be described as "gluten intolerant" - or as "recovered from autism?"
I've been asking experts for an opinion; so far I haven't received a solid, quotable response.
What's your opinion? Is there a difference between "autism-like symptoms" and autism? If so - how is it defined?