A Major New Initiative to PREVENT Autism and other Neuro-Developmental Disorders- Project TENDR

A Major New Initiative to PREVENT Autism 
and other Neuro-Developmental Disorders- 
Project TENDR

As so many families know all too well, the chance that our children will develop some form of autism, or other neuro-developmental disorders such as ADHD or intellectual and learning disabilities has risen dramatically in the last 20 years.   The risk has risen to the point where now roughly one in six American children will develop on of these neuro-developmental disorders (NDD).

For most the time that we have watched these risks expand, there has been little hope of actually reducing the chances that our children would develop one of these NDD's.  Much progress has been made in the diagnosis of these disorders and in approaches to treatments.   But what about actually halting this most cruel epidemic?  Imagine if a path forward could be created that would reduce the chance that a family's child would develop autism, ADHD, and/or a learning disability.

This is not such an improbable hope.  We have known for many decades that a number of chemicals can have profound effects on how the human brain develops.  The most familiar example is lead. Exposure causes many complex neuro-developmental disorders, and removing from the environment is saving a tremendous number of children from these troubles.

Many years of solid, scientific research is just now coming to fruition, opening the door to identifying just which chemicals in our environment are causing autism, ADHD, and learning disorders.   Many of the nation's leading researchers in this field are ready to gather the findings they have observed over decades of work.  Roughly 50 of these top experts will be meeting in June and September of this year to craft 2 public position papers.

This effort is organized under the name of Project TENDR (Targeting Environment & NeuroDevelopmental Risks).   Project TENDR is being led by Dr. Irva Hertz-Picciotto, widely regarded as one of the world's foremost epidemiologists of neurodevelopmental disorders, and Ms. Maureen Swanson, of the Learning Disabilities Association of America.  They have put together an Organizing Committee of 15 leading authorities on this subject, including researchers from Harvard, University of Washington, University of California, California EPA, Columbia, and the NIH.  I have been deeply honored to serve on Project TENDR's Organizing Committee primarily to help with policy implementation efforts.

The participants in the two workshops include the full breadth of expertise on this subject and include scholars from all the same schools as the Organizing Committee, as well as the American Academy of Pediatrics, the US EPA, Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, and many other leading schools and agencies.

The first position paper from Project TENDR will be crafted in June of this year, and will identify the chemicals in our environment likely to cause the most autism, ADHD, and learning disorders.

The second position paper from Project TENDR, to be crafted in September of this year will propose an approach to actual reductions from these neurotoxins.

We all are used to being barraged by claims of this or that item causing this or that malady or medical problem.  And we have seen it turn out in too many cases that the dangerous substance really presented no harm at all.  So it is only natural to be skeptical, to wonder, will this Project TENDR really identify substances that truly cause these terrible conditions?   Even more to the point, can we truly expect that if exposure to the key chemicals Project TENDR identifies is reduced, will fewer children have autism, ADHD, and/or learning disabilities?

I am very hopeful the answer is yes.  Project TENDR is not the result of a casual inference, or an emotional hope, or a passing fad.   The statements and plans from Project TENDR will be reflecting decades of careful scholarly study, by dozens of nationally recognized leaders in this field, from a wide array of the nation's leading institutions and agencies.

Given the depth of this effort, I have been very pleased to participate by introducing the concept to two leaders in our Federal government, Senator Sherrod Brown, and the United States Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy.   Dr. Hertz-Picciotto has been active in presenting Project TENDR to US Congresswoman Doris Matsui of California's 5th District.

Earlier in March of 2015, I was deeply honored to be able to present Project TENDR to Senator Brown's health care aide, and to meet with the Surgeon General, Dr. Murthy.

Senator Brown has long been an advocate of helping families with autism, and to finding a path to reduce the risk of developing it.  He is a long-time member of the Congressional Autism Caucus.  Many families who come to Advanced Pediatrics have seen the photo of the Senator meeting with me here in our pediatric office in 2010, and it was at this meeting that we began our collaboration in the issue of autism.  In 2011, the Senator hosted an Autism Roundtable in the US Senate meeting rooms, where the head of the National Institutes of Mental Health, leading researchers, met.  I was honored to chair this Roundtable, with the goal of finding a path towards preventing autism, of reducing its incidence.  

Our Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy was recently sworn into office.  I was very honored that he accepted my request to meet and discuss Project TENDR.  Of course, the Surgeon General cannot endorse a scientific claim or a program unless it has met particularly stringent evaluations.  I am very pleased that as a result of our meeting, the office of the Surgeon General will be giving Project TENDR guidance on how best to pursue this necessary level of independent evaluation of our claims that certain chemicals in the environment, if their exposure was reduced, could reduce the chances of a family's child developing a neuro-developmental disorders.  Attached is a photo of the Surgeon General with me just after our meeting.

Preliminary estimates from the Project TENDR experts suggests that if we reduced the exposure from the top neuro-toxic chemicals by as little as 20%, the country could experience drops in the chances of our children developing autism, ADHD, and/or learning disabilities by 15-40%

Above all else, I am most excited that families in our community could one day experience some relief from the very real worry that their child may develop one of these very difficult conditions.

I will be keeping everyone updated as Project TENDR begins its work.  Let us all hope for much success.

To your health,
Dr. Arthur Lavin

*Disclaimer* The comments contained in this electronic source of information do not constitute and are not designed to imply that they constitute any form of individual medical advice. The information provided is purely for informational purposes only and not relevant to any person's particular medical condition or situation. If you have any medical concerns about yourself or your family please contact your physician immediately. In order to provide our patients the best uninfluenced information that science has to offer,we do not accept samples of drugs, advertising tchotchkes, money, food, or any item from outside vendors.

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