The Times Christmas Charity

Looks like an excellent one to support:

TreeHouse, founded ten years ago to help children with severe autism, is a magnificent example of the determination of some parents to do more for those afflicted, and of how intensive and dedicated specialist therapy can bring extraordinary results, even for those thought to be untreatable. The school in North London has pioneered an Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) approach that yields substantial improvements in speech, social skills and in the children\’s ability to manage daily tasks. The therapy, however, is extremely costly. The ratio of teachers to children at TreeHouse is 1:1, and each class has five teachers and children. Though still in temporary premises, the school has 59 children, drawn from across London, and has plans for a purpose-built centre. TreeHouse, as a charity, relies on the voluntary sector and on the dedication of parents such as Nick Hornby, who today details the struggle to assist his son, Danny.

A couple of things though:

The need is obvious; 588,000 people in Britain have some form of autism, with boys four times more likely to develop the condition than girls.

I\’m pretty certain that that is the number of those upon the autism spectrum, not those with "classic" autism. Further:

Autism, it is feared, may be on the increase. Why this is so and whether genetic or environment factors play a part is largely unknown.

Well, actually, we do know quite a lot about the causes. Simon Baron Cohen (yes, cousin of Ali G) is the leading researcher in the UK, perhaps one of the leading ones worldwide. There\’s two things in play here he seems to think. One is that we have extended the definition, from that "classic" autism to the autism spectrum. I\’m not sure quite when that happened in the UK but in the US it was early 1980s, and this tracks very well with the rise in reported cases. the rise beginning in the early 1980s.

The second is that it is indeed linked (correlation so far, not quite causation yet) to genetic factors. It does seem to run in extended families. and one possible explanation for the reported rise (over and above the extention of the diagnosis) is the rise in assortative mating.

Now I don\’t claim that that is necessarily true, just that that is what a leading researcher is saying he thinks is true.

Oh, by the way, no, it has nothing whatsoever to do with either the MMR vaccine or mercury in vaccines.

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