Environmental Health Advisory Board

In February 2006, the Autism Society formed an Environmental Health Advisory Board (EHAB) to explore the connection between the environment and autism. Members of the board were chosen on the basis of their backgrounds in the areas of environmental health and autism, and represent some of the best minds in these areas.

A message from EHAB Co-Chairs
Martha Herbert, M.D., Ph.D., and David Humphrey

Is autism affected by our environment? A growing body of speculation and information suggests a connection.

In 2005, Dr. Carol Berkowitz, then president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, made a striking statement: “I think there’s a real concern that there’s been a change in our environment. An exposure to some toxins, chemicals, environmental factors – either when a mother is pregnant or after the delivery of the child – that has led to autism.”

This same concern is shared by the American public: In a recent MSNBC poll, more than 80 percent of those surveyed placed the blame for autism on environmental factors impacting individuals who are genetically vulnerable.

When we acknowledge a potential role for the environment in contributing to or causing autism, we also acknowledge the possibility that autism may be predictable, preventable and reversible (treatable). Making this possibility a reality will then need to become a top priority, and this will have a far-reaching and profound impact on future research as well as medical, educational and other public policies regarding autism.

EHAB Members:

Joan Cranmer, Ph.D., is a professor of pediatrics and pharmacology/toxicology for Medical Sciences at the University of Arkansas and editor-in-chief of NeuroToxicology. In 1996, she served as an advisor to the White House Committee on the Environment and Children. She received the Joseph P. Kennedy Research Award for outstanding contributions to pediatric research for publishing the first research paper on “behavioral teratology.” She received her Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota and completed her post-doctoral work at the University of Virginia. Her research interests include infant and child neurotoxicity studies, children’s environmental health and developmental neurotoxicology. Dr. Cranmer organizes and chairs an annual international neurotoxicology conference that has a strong focus on advances in ASD.

Robert Hendren, D.O., is professor of psychiatry and Tsakopolous-Vismara Chair, executive director of the M.I.N.D. (Medical Investigation of Neurodevelopmental Disorders) Institute, and chief of child and adolescent psychiatry at the University of California, Davis. He is also president-elect of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Dr. Hendren took his residency in general psychiatry at the Mayo Graduate School of Medicine, and his child and adolescent psychiatry fellowship at the Yale Child Study Center. His primary areas of research are translational clinical pharmacology and nutritional trials using biomarkers in neurodevelopmental disorders.

Martha Herbert, M.D., Ph.D. (co-chair) is an assistant professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School, and a pediatric neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and Cambridge Health Alliance Center for Child and Adolescent Development. She received her medical degree from Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, and did her pediatric training at Cornell University Medical Center in New York City and her neurology training at Massachusetts General Hospital. Prior to her medical training, she received her Ph.D. in the History of Consciousness at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She studies brain size and brain coordination problems in autism, how body problems affect the brain, and how researchers can measure changes in brain function that can result from treatment interventions.

David Humphrey (co-chair) is a board member of the Northwest Autism Foundation, Autism Treatment Network, Autism Society and Autism Research Institute. He is also the president of Kirkman Group, Inc., a pharmaceutical company in Portland, Oregon. For the past five years, Mr. Humphrey has devoted much of his time to the research and study of autism. He is a successful entrepreneur who has founded several companies in Oregon and Hawaii. One of his companies was named for four consecutive years to Inc. magazine’s prestigious list of “500 Fastest Growing Companies in the Nation.” Kirkman Group, Inc., also was named by Oregon Business magazine as one of the “Top 100 Companies to Work for in Oregon.”

Michael Merzenich, Ph.D., is Francis A. Sooy Chair of Otolaryngology in the Keck Center for Integrative Neurosciences at the University of California, San Francisco. He is the founder of Scientific Learning Corporation and Neuroscience Solutions Corporation, which develop therapeutic programs for the neurologically and psychiatrically impaired. With his wife Diane, he established the Merzenich Chair in Education at the University of Portland. His chief area of interest is the “brain plasticity” underlying the development of skills and abilities through experience and learning. He is a medical inventor who has been awarded more than 50 patents, and his group developed the first models of a commercial (Clarion) cochlear implant.

Elise Miller, M.Ed., is founder and executive director of the National Institute for Children’s Environmental Health, serving as the national coordinator for the Collaborative on Health and the Environment’s Learning and Developmental Disabilities Initiative. She also serves on the Children’s Environmental Health Network national board of directors and the advisory boards of several other national organizations. In addition, she completed a fellowship at the Fetzer Institute in Kalamazoo, Michigan, for her work on sustainable development and environmental health. She received her master’s degree in Education from Harvard and her B.A. from Dartmouth College.

Isaac Pessah, Ph.D., is professor of toxicology and director of the Center for Children’s Environmental Health Sciences in the Department of Molecular Biosciences at the School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California, Davis. He completed his undergraduate training at Cornell University, and received his Ph.D. in Pharmacology and Toxicology from the University of Maryland.

Jennifer Repella is the director of information and referral/customer service for the Autism Society. She has worked in the developmental disabilities field since 1992. Her work experience ranges from direct support for individuals with disabilities to systems advocacy and public policy work. Jennifer has a degree in Rehabilitation Services and Education from Penn State University.

Bernard Rimland, Ph.D., the founder of the Autism Society, recently passed away. Dr. Rimland was among the first in the autism field to realize the importance of combining a focus on medical interventions with treatments, supports and services. A pioneer in the area of autism diagnosis and treatment, Dr. Rimland transformed the prevailing view of autism in the medical and scientific community and built the largest parent support organization in the United States. He inspired parents, advocates and professionals to treat individuals with autism with respect, dignity and care. His 1964 book, Infantile Autism: The Syndrome and its Implications for a Neural Theory of Behavior, was responsible for changing the long-held belief that autism was an emotional disorder caused by poor mothering. Dr. Rimland devoted himself to conducting and disseminating the results of research on methods of diagnosing and treating the full spectrum of autism.

Stephen Shore, Ph.D., diagnosed as a child with “atypical development with strong autistic tendencies,” was nonverbal until age four, and was recommended for institutionalization. He just recently completed a special education doctorate at Boston University, focusing on helping people with autism develop their capacities to the fullest extent possible. In addition to authoring three books, presenting and consulting internationally, he serves on the Autism Society board and several other autism spectrum-related organizations.