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Too Busy Too Broke To Teach Autistic Child to Speak? Glossing over Gross.

Posted Feb 15 2010 10:00pm
Tv By Bill Welsh

It is difficult to express how despondent I felt in London following the verdict at the General Medical Council (GMC) in the case against Dr Andrew Wakefield, and Professors Walker-Smith and Murch. The GMC panel chairman’s opening remark prior to his hour long reading of the panel’s verdicts was however still uppermost in my mind as I left the courtroom“The panel wish to make it clear that this case is not concerned with whether there is or might be any link between the MMR vaccination and autism”.

 How the media would contrive to ignore this preliminary guidance was already apparent judging by the early editions of the London evening press
 “Vaccine is Safe, say experts” according to one
”No evidence of MMR-autism link”, stated another.

This level of inaccurate reporting by indolent journalists was to be repeated in the media throughout the UK for 48 hours. None of us will be be surprised at that but it is nevertheless worrying when the entire media of one country can get a simple fact so very wrong.

My personal air of depression was not helped when, as I boarded the train in London for my five hour journey back home to Scotland, I was informed that the on-board buffet bar did not stock whisky.  Five hours without a dram* and me in a state of depression! I thought “is there no end to my misery?”

Nothing else for it, I decided to read some of the documents and clippings that had gathered over time in my briefcase in the hope that the journey Northbound through England would pass more speedily. One clipping from the Guardian, a respected broadsheet, caught my eye immediately
“Parents too busy to help children learn to talk, expert suggests”

The article told us
"Children spend so much time in front of the television and computer games, and so little time with adults that one child in six has difficulty learning to talk, according to an expert appointed by the government to improve young people's communication skills.

Results of a YouGov survey published today by Jean Gross, the new "communication champion" for children, found that twice as many boys struggle as girls, and almost one in four of all children have problems talking. "This really matters," Gross said. "Our ability to communicate is fundamental and underpins everything else."

My own first thought was: Why did the government appoint a new ‘communication champion for children’ ? Is there a new problem? The answer is perhaps contained in the next part of the article:

Gross, an educational psychologist, said that while a proportion of children had always had speech problems there was anecdotal evidence of an increase in difficulties.
That begs another question: How big is this problem?

Nearly a quarter of all boys have some difficulties, and 5% experience significant trouble, the YouGov survey of 1,000 parents in England revealed. For girls, the survey's figures are 13% and 2%.

This got me thinking, if 25% of boys and 13% of girls are having difficulty learning to talk, why is this happening? Well according to the UK’s new communications champion for children the answer is straightforward
This is caused by social factors such as the amount of time they spend "exposed to screens of all kinds" and lack of time with their parents for face-to-face conversation.

Interesting certainly, but that is not all, Jean Gross goes further. Wait for it
"It's money – mortgages," Gross said. "People would feel able to share childcare or spend more time at home with their children if they didn't have to pay such astronomically high mortgages."

Gross has a bag full of hypotheses, but no scientific evidence to support any of her pet theories. Nonetheless we should all be very concerned that one in six children (a quarter of all boys) is having difficulty learning to talk. Communication difficulty is one of the tripartite of impairments associated with autism. It has been definitively proven that autism has increased massively. Now we must ask ourselves if another new sub-group of children exists.

Perhaps Jean Gross would be better employed investigating whether any potentially damaging environmental factor common to all of these children is at play.

Bill Welsh
Autism Treatment Trust
*Dram is a Scottish term for a small whisky.

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