A recent study of more than 340, 000 boys born between 1994 and 2003 in Denmark has concluded that circumcision raises the chances of an autism spectrum disorder before the age of 10 by 46 per cent, but if the circumcision was performed before the age of five it doubles the risk of developing autism.
The study shows how painful experiences in babies—both animal and human—have a long-term effect on pain perception.
Professor Morten Frisch of the Statens Serum Institut in Copenhagen, who led the research, stated: “Our investigation was prompted by the combination of recent animal findings linking a single painful injury to lifelong deficits in stress response and a study showing a strong, positive correlation between a country’s neonatal male circumcision rate and its prevalence of ASD in boys.”
But many doctors have expressed their doubts about the validity of the study.
Professor David Katz, Professor of Immunopathology at University College London and chairman Milah UK told the Daily Mail: “This report is far from convincing: correlation does not equal causation.”
Professor Katz added: “There is a long history of attempts to link autistic spectrum disorders to unrelated practices, such as the measles/mumps/rubella association, which proved to be fraudulent. There is general agreement that in people suffering from an ASD there are abnormalities that can be identified in brain structure and/or function.
“There is a strong genetic component, which may be a factor within the faith communities studied here, and which does not appear to have been explored amongst them. Some contemporary research does indicate that factors besides the genetic component are contributing to the increasing occurrence of ASD.
“For example, a variety of environmental toxins have been invoked to explain why these conditions are more prevalent today than they may have been in the past – but again proof of causation is lacking, and these factors are only likely to be relevant in those who are already vulnerable to them.”
Professor Jeremy Turk, Consultant Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist at Southwark Child & Adolescent Mental Health Neurodevelopmental Service, told the Daily Mail he was concerned with the reliability of the study.
“The findings of this research, while interesting, need to be considered carefully – one cannot draw very strong conclusions from the data, ” Professor Turk cautioned, pointing out: “This is not a causal study, but instead compares data sets and looks for correlations. While this is a valid way of doing a study, it means that we must be careful about any implications.”
Dr Rosa Hoekstra, lecturer in psychology at the Open University, told the Daily Mail: “I think this is an extremely speculative study. The study is purely based on register data and takes a registered autism diagnosis at face value, without considering cultural or social factors affecting the likelihood of an (early) autism diagnosis.”