John, the mercury thermometer and ‘autism’

In 2003 an 11 month boy, whom we shall call John, stopped playing or laughing, became restless and no longer slept through the night. He kept hitting his own hands or other objects, something he had never done before. John was admitted to hospital and had extensive investigations. The doctors were puzzled and didn’t know what was wrong with him. Two weeks later he was no better. By this time, the doctors suspected a diagnosis of regressive autism and he was referred on to another specialist who discovered that, four weeks before he became ill, a thermometer had broken in John’s home and mercury had spilled onto the carpet. The carpet had been vacuum cleaned, but remaining on the carpet were tiny amounts of mercury which John had swallowed. The final diagnosis was mercury poisoning. Thankfully John made a full recovery. This true story, written up in a medical journal, demonstrates how similar the symptoms of mercury poisoning and autism are.