Reports emerged last week of the largest measles out break in the United States in 12 years. Blamed largely to some parents deciding against vaccinations for their children, these reports trouble a local mother.

Though it hasn’t been proven yet, there are a great many people who feel the mercury-based vaccine preservative thimersal may be one of the triggers of autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Gina Boulware of Bridge City understands their fears, but strongly disagrees with their actions. “They have to vaccinate their kids.
Don’t they know that?” Boulware said, “They just have to ask for the thimersal free vaccines.”

She faces what those parents worry about every day, caring for her eight year old son, Hayden, who was diagnosed with autism at the age of 22 and a half months.

In use since the 1930s, thimersal was discontinued in most vaccines in 2001, but the older vaccines remained on the shelves according to Boulware. It is still used in flu vaccines. 

She has faith in immunization, but does blame the thimersal for her son’s condition.

Some children, like Hayden, start developing like a normal child.

“He had 20 words, sang Barney,” according to Boulware.

But something happened a few months after he received his immunizations. Hayden stopped playing. Instead of his toys, he would go to the refrigerator and take out mom’s tomatoes, lining them up on the table. Taking balls from his ball pit, he would line them up according to colors. He never touches his toys, but is fascinated with spheres.

The 20-word vocabulary vanished, he doesn’t speak anymore.

It’s difficult for him to follow instructions to brush his teeth and take a bath, Gina has resorted to pictures to communicate the steps needed. “I have seven pictures that show him to get his toothbrush, wet it, put the toothpaste on the toothbrush, brush his upper and then his lower teeth.

What most people take for granted, Hayden has to be shown over and over again.

“In general we find autistic children to be visual learners,” said Sharon Carter, of Carter’s Educational Training in Mid County, Hayden’s in-home therapist. Writing things down for the students and use of pictures are common means of breaking down the communication barriers that exist in children with autism. “There are other forms of communication than speach,” said Carter. One of the goals she has with Hayden is to find what methods of communication work best for him, as all cases are individual and have different needs. 

Carter has no idea, how many children in the Golden Triangle suffer from autism, but she personally works with “dozens.” She also agrees with the statistic that autism strikes one in 150 children. Recently, she heard that the latest statistic may now be 1 in 90, “but I would have to study the research on that,” she said. Striking mainly boys, only one in five cases is a girl.

Autism is not a form of mental retardation. In fact, a great many with the disorder are quite intelligent.

It is a problem with disconnection between various parts of the brain. Hard wired in an irregular fashion, the connections to the different sections of the brain, such as the left and right hemispheres, are weak, while local areas tend to have an over abundance of “white matter,” the nerves that are the transit system for the electrical impulses. It was likened to “too many competing local services but no long distance.”

According to recent Time Magazine articles, studies have been conducted by neuroscientest Eric Courchesne at Children’s Hospital of San Diego, based on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and basic tape-measure readings. His studies found the brains of autistic children are unusually large. Normal size at birth, there is rapid growth by the age of 2, particularly in the frontal lobes. By the age of 4, their brains are the average size of a 13-year-old. It is unknown if the abnormalities cause the disorder, or if the disorder is the source of the abnormalities. There are also studies in progress comparing facial features of children with and without autism with thoughts it may help in early detection.

There are still no solid answers to the cause of autism, but research seems to be leaning toward some gene abnormalities that are triggered by environmental conditions. Suspicious spots have been found on chromosomes 2, 5, 7, 11 and 17 by gene scientists studying the disorder. “We think there are a number of different autisms, each of which could have a different cause and different genes involved,” says David Amaral, research director of the Medical Investigation of Neurodevelopmental Disorders (MIND) Institute.

According to toxicologist Isaac Pessah, “There’s probably no one trigger that’s causing autism from the environmental side, and there’s no one gene that’s causing it.” Passah is studying hair, blood, urine and tissue samples from 700 families with autism.

Regardless of the cause, Boulware is looking for help with the day to day struggles of caring for her son.

She would like to start a support group in the Bridge City, Orangefield area. “I just need somebody to talk to.”

There is a group in Beaumont and one in Port Arthur that she belongs to, “…but we need something here, in Bridge City, Orangefield and Orange,” said Ms. Boulware. “I’m a single mother and it is hard…especially as high as gas is.”

She is still trying to potty train Hayden, but it just doesn’t register with him. That is one of the things Gina would like help with. Maybe other parents have managed it and can give her some tips on what to do.

“I know I’m not alone…but I feel alone,” she said. “I would like to get together once a week, to talk and let the kids play together.”

She praises Carter for her efforts to give Hayden the life skills he needs and is very thankful for the Bridge City School District and April Hawkins, of the special education department for their efforts as well, but feels the need to network with other parents of autistic children. If you would be interested in forming a group as Boulware suggests, you can contact her by calling (409) 670-5646.
To find out more about autism, Carter suggests checking out the Autism Society of Southeast Texas (ASSET).

Early detection is important. The American Academy of Pediatrics states two screenings are needed- one at 18 months and one at 24 months, because a quarter of children with ASD develop normally at first and then regress as Hayden did.

Diagnosis of autism has been growing at an alarming rate in the last few years. There are still lots of questions and too few answers.

Symptoms to look for:
    * Lack of or delay in spoken language
    * Repetitive use of language and/or motor mannerisms (e.g., hand-flapping, twirling objects)
    * Little or no eye contact
    * Lack of interest in peer relationships
    * Lack of spontaneous or make-believe play
    * Persistent fixation on parts of objects

About Penny LeLeux

Penny has worked at The Record Newspapers since 2006. A member of the editorial staff, she has "done everything but print it." Most frequently she writes entertainment reviews and human interest stories, with a little paranormal thrown in from time to time.She has been a lifelong member of the Orangefield community.