Reading Age of Autism Part 2 – Mercury still not good for you
Posted Oct 10 2010 9:50am
OK, so you might’ve seen by my tweets that I struggled a bit with Chapter 2. I hope the narrative picks up in upcoming chapters.
Anyway, the overall gist of Chapter 2 is that of Chapter 1 – mercury is bad for you, m’kay? To which the the retort is still – Holy Obvious Batman!
The tale of Chapter 2 is how the beginning of the Psychoanalysis movement (an easy mark, being bollocks) missed the ‘obvious’ signs – that Freud/Charcot/Breuer etc diagnosed hysteria when they should’ve diagnosed (you guessed it) mercury poisoning.
Now call me picky but isn’t this book, called The Age of Autism, supposed to be about ‘y’know, autism? I mean, don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the authors are setting out a hypothesis here and doing a bit of scene setting but who really gives a shit these days if Anna O. Dora etc were really cases of mercury poisoning when what we’re supposed to be doing is linking mercury poisoning to autism ?
In fact, this scene setting is doing quite a lot of harm to the Blaxill/Olmsted hypothesis. They go through some of the symptoms of the respective case studies in painstaking detail. Lets look at them in the context of autism shall we?
Charcot diagnosed hysteria in a nurse called ‘Etch___’ a Nurse in Bordeaux. She was nearly raped and descended into a ‘nervous state’ and a convulsion a year later was attributed to the near rape. She returned to work (in Paris though) but suffered:
...repeated and more frequent convulsions, urinary retention, paralyses and other complications…
Blaxill and Olmsted claim these as symptoms of mercury poisoning. They may well be. But I tell you what – they sound nothing like autism.
Charcort also examined another patient who showed the following symptoms:
...comatose for half an hour and in bed for two days; afterward he continued to exhibit classic symptoms of decreased sensation, twitching and vision loss…
I mean, does that sound anything like autism to you?
Blaxill and Olmsted recount a myriad of other symptoms including limb paralysis, hallucination, a relentless cough, paresis and many many more. They’re unified in Blaxill and Olmsted’s minds by their obvious connection to mercury poisoning – maybe they are. But vastly more obvious to me, if not to them, is that they’re unified in presenting a medical picture that is about as far removed from autism as its possible to get.
There is always a danger in retrospective diagnosis. These assumptions are particularly iffy given the variety of exposures and mechanisms that could explain these symptoms. Certainly, "hysteria" is about as relevant as "miasma," but the discounting of those doesn't mean that mercury poisoning was next in line.
Also, keep us posted on whether or not they make mention of hatters and mills workers and their progeny and autism.
That bits coming up. I had a quick flick through before reading and saw a few references to that sort of thing.
I'm intending to do at least one blog post per chapter. Might get a bit dull for readers though ;)
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Let us know if they mention teeth falling out. I think that's a big thing in mercury poisoning.