Autism, Brain, and Environment

Article excerpt

By Richard Lathe

London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2006. 288 pp. ISBN: 1-84310-438-5, $24.95

Autism rates have risen to "epidemic" proportions, as we hear from media reports. Yet understanding why has so far been elusive, and a myriad of theories have been proposed, from changing diagnostic criteria to increased awareness to vaccines to different mating patterns increasing the likelihood of familial inheritance. In this book, Richard Lathe takes a scholarly approach to exploring a variety of possible links in order to explain autism, pulling together evidence from numerous fields of study including, among others, neuroscience, toxicology, genetics, endocrinology, and immunology.

Autism or autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) is a devasting disability, with lifelong implications for all but those only mildly affected. Thought to be rare when first described in the 1940s, it is now reported to occur in 1 of every 166 births. There is no medical test for autism, but its diagnosis is based on behavioral impairments in three areas: communication, social interactions, and repetitive or restricted activities. Lathe has written a very thorough and clear book describing autism, integrating the evidence that has led him to conclude that it is a disorder of the limbic brain, which is very sensitive to environmental toxicants, while recognizing the genetic contribution as well.

Lathe describes his intent to provide material accessible to researchers as well as nonspecialists, including families, medical practitioners, teachers, psychologists, and advocates, and he has done so to a reasonable extent. Each chapter begins with a simple, interesting introduction and ends with 5-10 key take-home points. The chapter material is clearly laid out, but of a fairly technical nature for the most part. Each chapter is extensively referenced with the latest literature. Thus the book provides a wealth of material to new researchers in the field and is bound to provide something of interest to experienced investigators because of the breadth covered. Some of this evidence is not very critically reviewed, so that, for example, one study on a topic is offered as conclusive evidence at times. But readers can look at the original references to draw their own conclusions. …