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Military Children and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Updated on August 2, 2021

Autism, the fastest growing neurological disorder, has been in the news quite a bit recently, leading people to wonder what has caused this increase. Could it be vaccinations or just an increased awareness of this condition? Another possibility is the overly processed foods that the average American ingests. However, I suggest that there is another, less obvious, link to the increase. While 1 in 110 American children are diagnosed with some form of ASD, 1 in 88 military children have some form of ASD . [1]

Autism is ‘a developmental disorder that appears in the first 3 years of life, and affects the brain's normal development of social and communication skills’.[2] Autism is a spectrum disorder, which means that people with autism could have anywhere between some to all symptoms. Characterized by impaired social interaction, autism goes further than that and can affect ability to communicate and repetitive, compulsive behaviors. On the more functional side of ASD is Asperger’s Syndrome, which still has the impaired social interaction, but quite often does not have any of the related issues; Asperger’s Syndrome used to be called ‘highly functioning autism’. Of course, all of this depends on the child - no two cases are exactly the same.

What we do know, for sure, is that ASD has dual causes – genetics and environment.[3] Scientists have found specific genes that are associated with Autism, and there are brain irregularities along with a decreased amount of serotonin in the brain. That is beside the point, what about the aforementioned environmental causes that could have led to the increase of autism in our society?

The most commonly held view, in regards to autism, is that vaccines are the cause of skyrocketing autism rates. The reasoning behind this, specifically, surrounds views of a chemical called thimerosal found in vaccines made before 2001; thimerosal was removed from all but the influenza vaccine (and thimerosal-free vaccines are available) at that time. Since then autism rates have continued to climb, not get better as would be expected if thimerosal were the actual contributing factor to autism. Beyond that, studies by real scientists (and Jenny McCarthy does not count as a doctor or a scientist), have shown that there is no evidence that vaccines are causing autism.[4]

What is important to keep in mind, when autism rates concern you, is that as we learn more about ASD, the parameters of what is considered autistic have changed, expanding to include many people that would not have been included previously. Autism became a diagnosis in 1911, but at that time it was considered a form of schizophrenia; it was not until the sixties that doctors began to realize that it was its own, separate condition.[5] Since that time, the parameters of what is considered autistic have changed five times, the most recent change being in 2007.[6]

Another strong possibility is our current diet; in fact, both yellow and red dyes have been shown to affect the cognitive functions of children who ingest them[9]. The majority of food dyes used in America are based on petroleum[7], which is totally unnecessary – there are natural alternatives, but they are more expensive and it is all about the bottom line. In fact, the UK has outlawed the use of specific food dyes, because of the negative effect it has on children.[8] For instance, yellow dye #5 causes zinc loss, through urine and saliva; zinc is critical in cognitive functions. Added to what they do, in and of themselves, synthetic dyes are allowed to carry harmful contaminants such as lead, cyanide, and mercury, in such small amounts as to not be lethal. However, lead attacks the nervous system, mercury leads to neurological damage, and cyanide causes confusion; these chemicals should not be ingested, even in small amounts.[9]

However, that does not explain the differences in rates regarding military children. What we know is that that autism is environment related, and we also know that the United States has been at war now for approximately 11 years. While it is unlikely that the deployment of parents is entirely responsible for this increase, it is possible that it has something to do with it. My family is military, and we have a child with Asperger’s syndrome; his difficulties became evident while my husband was in basic training and there are countless other military families who report that their child’s difficulties became evident during deployment or basic training. While I do not believe that this is causing ASD, I strongly believe that there is a correlation. I think that children, who might otherwise be borderline, are pushed into full-blown ASD by external changes in their environment; this probably has something to do with the fact that ASD children need structure and the loss of a parent would make their symptoms worse. The correlation is something I feel should be looked at more closely by the medical community.

I am not a psychologist, I am not a doctor. I am someone talking what I see and trying to put together a logical explanation. I reserve the right to be wrong.

[1]National Health Federation. (2008.) 1 in 88 Children With Autism/ASD In Military Families. Retrieved 29 April 2012 from

[2] National Center for Biotechnology Information. (2010.) Autism. Retrieved 29 April 2012 from

[3] National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. (2012.) Autism Fact Sheet. Retrieved 29 April 2012 from

[4] Center for Disease Control. (2012.) Vaccine Safety. Retrieved 29 April 2012 from

[5] (2012.) A History of Autism. Retrieved 29 April 2012 from

[6] New Atheist Movement. (2012.) Scientific Evidence. Retrieved 29 April 2012 from

[7] (2012.) Dyes in Your Food. Retrieved 29 April 2012 from

[8] Business Gateway. (2012.) Controls on Chemicals in Food – Regulations on Food Colors. Retrieved 29 April 2012 from

[9] (2012.) How Can a Simple Diet Help So Many Problems? Retrieved 29 April 2012 from


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