January 12, 2015

Research – I read last week, probably as many of you did, about recent research that has been carried out in Denmark and was published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. The study led by Professor Morten Frisch of the Statens Serum Institut, Copenhagen, studied 340,000 boys who were born in Denmark between 1994 and 2003. When the boys reached the age of 9, their health was reviewed and it was found that 5,000 boys had been diagnosed with ASD.

He told:

‘Our investigation was prompted by the combination of recent animal findings linking a single painful injury to lifelong deficits in stress response…and a study showing a strong, positive correlation between a country’s neonatal male circumcision rate and its prevalence of ASD in boys.’

Therefore this study, in essence, wanted to find out that pain caused through circumcision was the risk factor for 5,000 of these boys developing ASD? To be quite honest I am both stunned and slightly amused.

The study found that having a  circumcision increased the chances of ASD  before the boy reached the age of 10 by 46 percent. The risk was doubled when circumcision took place before the boy was 5.

Professor Jeremy Turk, who is a Consultant Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist at Southwark Child & Adolescent Mental Health Neurodevelopmental Service, told:

‘The findings of this research, while interesting, need to be considered carefully – one cannot draw very strong conclusions from the data.

‘This is not a causal study, but instead compares data sets and looks for correlations.

This is the study in a nutshell I feel. Sensationalist headlines generated by this study, that open up the floodgates to the thinking that having your little boy circumcised cam cause autism is not helpful in the slightest. This, once again, is one more study to make parents feel guilty, one more thing that they can blame themselves for; but the sad fact is that there is no evidence to suggest that circumcision ‘causes‘ autism; this is purely a correlation study.

Therefore what use is this study? What can it teach us? I have no idea.

I think that a ‘study’ of this nature and indeed the ‘research‘ that has been carried out, although interesting, is far more harmful than actually stepping back  and looking ta the wider and bigger picture here. We do not know what causes autism; I believe that there are a number of different factors at play, a mishmash of genetic and environmental perhaps, who knows? But that is irrelevant, what maters is that, ok, research needs to be carried out, but scientific and properly researched studies that are helpful for the autism community. More importantly though I feel that we need to focus on how we can help those individuals on the spectrum. We need to focus upon therapies and interventions, provide more training for both professionals and families, have more education resources put in place. All of this is of far more importance than a study carried out that looks into the number of boys circumcised who then go on to receive an autism diagnosis. What on earth did this study cost? That’s what I would love to know.

This study also glaringly misses out on half the population. What about girls?

Professor Jeremy Turk, Consultant Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist at Southwark Child & Adolescent Mental Health Neurodevelopmental Service,makes an extremely valid point:

‘For example, many cases of autism are missed until children are older and as there are relatively few cases of autism this could easily skew the data.

‘Furthermore, there are many potentially confounding variables which could explain raised ASD rates, which the authors do not explore or account for.

‘Finally, I have some issues with the premise in that their speculations regarding early pain as a cause of autism are, to say the least, highly speculative.

Dr Rosa Hoekstra, lecturer in psychology at the Open University, also echoes my own concerns statinfg that she thinks this is an extremely speculative study.

‘The study is purely based on register data and takes a registered autism diagnosis at face value, without considering cultural or social factors affecting the likelihood of an (early) autism diagnosis.

About the author 

Jo Worgan

Jo Worgan is a published author, writer and blogger. She has a degree in English Literature. She writes about life with her youngest son who is on the autistic spectrum. Jo tweets (@mummyworgan) and is also a freelance columnist for the Lancaster Guardian. ‘My Life with Tom, Living With Autism‘ is her second book and a culmination of her blog posts, and available on Kindle now, along with her first book, Life on the Spectrum. The Preschool years.

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