April 2nd, 2008
11:43 AM ET

Continuing to place the puzzle pieces

By Dr. Sanjay Gupta
Chief Medical Correspondent

Today is the first World Autism Awareness Day as designated by the United Nations.  First off, let me say that at CNN we have been preparing for this day for months, and have covered autism stories for years. Since I have been at CNN, I have been covering autism and I have committed myself to this area of reporting and investigation. If you ask most medical reporters, they will tell you the autism beat is sort of the third rail of journalism. It is so rife with controversy and passionate people on different sides of the issue. If you do stories on this topic, you will get criticized. Period.


Still, perhaps because I am a neurosurgeon, I have been fascinated with the new brain imaging that allows us to peer deep inside the brain of a child or adult with autism and see the changes that may explain the mysterious symptoms. I will continue covering these stories. Maybe it is because I am a relatively new parent of two gorgeous little girls who jumps for joy every time they pass a milestone and grows a little concerned if they seem to be a little behind compared with their friends. Maybe it is because families from all over the world have sent their stories to me about their own family members with autism.

I have spent a lot of time as a doctor and a journalist with children that have autism. I have walked into those meetings with an open mind devoid of any preconceived notions about what type of person I was likely to meet and what may have caused his or her autism in the first place. As an individual, I find myself less dogmatic and more willing to listen to all sides. I have taken the time to read in detail the 16 best epidemiological studies that exist, as well as the more limited toxicity studies. I have researched studies from as far away as Portugal looking at the incidence of mitochondrial disease and its possible association with autism. I am a better journalist because of it and a better doctor as well.

 Truth of the matter, autism is a spectrum. It is hard to say for sure that someone has "serious" autism or "mild" autism. And, I hate those scales anyway. Truth is, I am not sure my daughter smiled socially at 3 months or she was just happy that I fed her. I am also not sure that her first word came right on schedule. I thought she said "daddy," my wife said it was "cat." We don't even have a cat. Every parent has likely thought about these same things at one point or another.

 As a journalist, especially one with my medical background, I feel responsible to keep the attention focused on this topic. I am delighted that CNN is presenting a worldwide investigation today. Besides the medical aspects, we will discuss the financial, the emotional (did you know the divorce rate has been estimated at 80 percent among parents of children with autism?) and the cultural aspects of autism as you see stories from South Africa, Qatar and many other countries. It is called Autism: Unraveling the Mystery, and I know we won't answer all the questions, but we will make a dogged effort to get at some of the answers – again, with an open mind and with the single purpose of finding the truth.

 We would like your help.

 Post a note here with your thoughts about how CNN should continue the worldwide investigation.

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.

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soundoff (67 Responses)
  1. joey

    Dr. Gupta,

    My hope is that your open-mindedness be emulated by those pediatricians who are first responders.

    In our case, a pediatrician said there was no way our son had autism, because children with autism never smile. Each time I think about the time that would have been wasted if we had been satisfied with that response and not seen a developmental pediatrician I begin to cry.

    And I cry for every other child in that practice whose mother's concerns are ignored by the experts.

    April 8, 2008 at 09:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. joelle

    to joey
    That prooves the misunderstanding of autism,even by doctors !!!

    April 9, 2008 at 04:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Judy

    I think it's fantastic that CNN is covering autism. I'm learning a lot about the disease. I have question, as well. Has the increased availability and usage of 3-D/4-D ultrasound (during pregnancy) in recent years been considered among the possible causes of autism? Do you think that it should it be considered? Thank you, again, to CNN for shedding light on this disease.

    April 10, 2008 at 01:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. joelle

    It is not a disease !
    Part of autism is about EMOTIONS...

    April 11, 2008 at 04:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Ann

    I also wondered whether there was a link between lead based toys and autism – especially trains. So many autistic boys I know, including my own were thomas the Tank Engine fanatics. Obsession with trains is a very common trait among autistic boys. Now we learn those were/are laced with lead. Just a thought.

    April 24, 2008 at 21:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Ron

    (posted this in the right area)

    Hi Sanjay,

    You’re the medical expert so tell me what you think:

    I had a dream that someone was explaining autism to me (I know there’s no current explanation on why it happens) so I thought I should tell someone in a position to look into this since it made sense.
    What if autism is created by the creation of too many neural pathways early on and the brain can’t handle it; like an overloaded powergrid. Certain sections of these neural pathways are forever lost, but since it was “overconnected” the person still can function somewhat with what the brain could handle after the blackout in certain areas.

    I know this probably makes no sense medically, but suggesting it never hurt. I also don’t know what would cause the brain “overconnect” maybe its some kind of defect.

    Thanks for anyone who actually read this,


    April 26, 2008 at 14:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Spencer

    One organization has done wonders with Autistic children, its called The Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential (IAHP), its located in Philadelphia. I have seen incredible success there with Autistic kids, I recommend everyone look more into this place. It has been on CNN insight before, heres the website:


    It answers a lot of questions about what Autism is, and what parents of these children should do.

    June 6, 2008 at 15:09 | Report abuse | Reply
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About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.