Valerie Foley

Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

The herd of elephants in the autism room

In Action, Diet, Environment, Medical, Parent issues, Perceptions, Research on April 23, 2014 at 3:32 am

Not wanting to deflate the hope of newly diagnosed families that their child will not be autistic one day, but wanting to protect them from the future awful feeling that they’ve been tricked into believing same.

We’ve all been here, right? You don’t want to spook the horses, but the road ahead for a family with a ‘quirky’ toddler is not an easy one. Do you pat them on the back and make comforting noises (like the doctors do), or do you blow their freaking minds and potentially break their hearts by telling them what you have learned?

I used to be a patter. Now, not so much. I struggle generally with heart breaking, but I’ve been trying for a while to come up with a way to do it anyway. Preferably with some intellect and guidance attached.

I know when I was in their (newly diagnosed) shoes a decade ago, the most powerful weapon I thought I had was hope. Really, at that time, my hope was actually denial wearing nicer clothes. Many many many people (real and virtual) gave me lots more pretty outfits to dress up my denial while we journeyed to a place where my kid was CEO of Apple and I was a hero for accepting him.

I now think my weapon of choice should have been thinking, not feeling. This isn’t about how we feel about our kids, that’s our business. It isn’t about how we feel about autism, which is also quite a personal matter.

It should be about how we think. What we think our children deserve. What we think happened to them. What we think needs to be done to prevent more damage.

We could start by casting a beady eye over how we, as parents, have been led to think about autism (or perhaps, how we have not been led to think at all).

Autism is a word used by doctors to describe behaviour and ability. It is diagnosed by doctors with training in psychology, ratified by para-professionals with training in the modification of behavior. At no point in the process of identification, diagnosis or mainstream management of autism is the physical health of the child, as it relates to this new diagnosis, examined. Causation is not discussed (unless your kind of discussion involves ‘we don’t know’ or ‘it wasn’t that‘).

Despite the fact that we all get rightly huffy about ludicrous theories like ‘refrigerator mothers made these kids autistic’ we let the definition of autism in the very hands that held that theory gently for so long.

Despite the fact that we have no idea what’s causing the behaviours and abilities that define the condition our child has been diagnosed with, we are encouraged to put the child in the hands of people who actually do not care about that very fact.

We tell people we want them to fix it, without ever asking a medical doctor what ‘it’ is. More precisely, we are told to accept that it is OK that medical doctors don’t know what it is, and we should leave it in the hands of those who will aim to ‘change’ it.

What the hell are we doing?

Well, some of us strap on the sheepskin and carry on to Early Intervention. Some of us scratch our heads and proceed with caution. The rest of us, an increasing pack of us, start researching. We do it the way we are all taught to research – go broad and understand as much as you can, make a specific plan, enact and continuously evaluate the plan, fall asleep at 3am, get up and do it all again.

With a few variations, this is what we learn.

There are many predicted roads to the future, each driven by their own philosophy and their own version of science.

The highly evaluated roads (the ones that reinforce the status quo, and aim to manage the outward expressions of ‘autism’ – speech and language deficits, behaviour challenges, restricted interests) do not question the causes of those expressions. These are the therapies that every family is told will change their child’s trajectory – speech, OT, PT, behavioural therapy. They undoubtedly help some children to live a calmer and more functional life. Extra emphasis on the some and on the non-health, pro-function related outcomes.

The roads that address causation are under researched and inadequately documented. When they are properly researched they are ignored, buried or pilloried by those whose philosophies they challenge. These are the biomedical, integrative, nutrition – health related medical strategies. These are the ones that examine why the things we call ‘autism’ happen and what we can do to treat those.

In a culture of evidence based medicine, are anyone else’s spidey senses prickling that we are actively encouraged to favour the non-medical strategies. We are constantly bludgeoned over the head with ‘the science’ and yet we are not publicly acknowledging the evaluation of the science of autism at all.

What’s up with that?

When mainstream opinion and policy makers discuss autism, they are describing outcomes as though they are symptoms, behaviours as though they are conditions and interpretations as though they were facts. There is little acceptance of a biological basis to autism. There is no awareness of the health status of the average child with autism.

Why?

It could be because the stakes behind establishing those things as a matter of public health record are too high. The change required to attempt prevention strategies based on the hard learned understandings of hundreds of thousands of thinking autism parents is too expensive, too wide ranging, too hard for health officials to enact.

So, we continue to allow a condition that is disabling our children at a rate of knots to be poorly described and treated as a mental health condition, to be managed. We describe it by how it feels, not by how it is. Worse, we leave its treatment in the hands of those who simply accept, and do not question, its existence.

We may as well go and sit in the refrigerator and make nice cups of (cold) tea for each other.

When change is unwieldy and expensive, it doesn’t seem like a coincidence to me that the powers that be choose the passive, self managing, just accept it and be quiet  road. To them, I’m guessing it seems like a cheaper option, a safer option and an option that ultimately asks nothing of them.

In this non-thinking autism state, nations may not question, but people do.

Parents who see their child mysteriously change, wonder why.

People whose children lose capacity after routine medical recommendations, don’t believe that should have happened.

Families crippled by the financial and emotional cost of seeking appropriate medical care for their child who has been defined as not having a medical condition, are oddly perplexed about why this occurred in the first place.

The system, such as it is, generally chooses to attach to the feelings behind these parental questions, and ignore the thinking. After all, there’s no place for emotion in science, right? It’s a persuasive argument, that shifts many of us back into the sheep flock while we lick our emotional wounds.

But, if you are a newbie in the field, know that if the sheepskin coat looks like it might smell bad, there are many in your circumstances who have acknowledged their feelings and transformed them, along with rigorous research, into advocacy and action.

If public health officials charged with managing autism, knew what we (as a society) were dealing with and accepted the reality of what we (as a society) have caused, then we might have a fighting chance at both healing and preventing the broad base of medical conditions that we (as a society) choose to call ‘autism’.

Healthy kids don’t stop speaking for no reason. Healthy kids don’t bite themselves and others. Healthy kids don’t covet pieces of string and more to the point their parents are not encouraged to view them as cutting edge contemporary artists when they do. Oddly enough, neither do children choose to not control their bowels, have seizures, compromise their own immune systems or react violently to environmental toxins and compromised foodstuffs.

The medical fraternity isn’t dealing with much very well, from what we can see. They are under stress from all sides – financial, logistical, technological. I can only imagine the fact that we have handed autism to those who manage the outside and ignore the cause, is somewhat of a relief to them. The previous generation of autism parents who appeared to accept the the futility of questioning the condition must have been a massive relief. The fact that these accepting parents are rapidly dropping in numbers and being replaced by angry, intellectually rigorous, politically organised autism parents must be a source of gastrointestinal upset for them. Lucky they have a drug for that, right?

If you join the aforementioned grumpy ones, know there is one thing and one thing only unifying us – the need for change.

If we want answers, we have to ask questions, even if the questions are large and confronting, even if the answers don’t come easily or quickly.

If you don’t want answers now, you will as your child ages and the strategies you have been offered have likely not magicked the challenges away. The acronyms and the obfuscation of the condition and the medications do not heal the condition, they are a sometimes useful short term fix. The promises of the brochures and the programs do not heal the condition, they manage it, at best. While we treat it from the outside in, we are ignoring the elephant (the herd of elephants) in the room – something is causing it and there is no consensus on what – lots of workable theories, but no consensus. That is a shaky shaky foundation for intervention that is so enthusiastically endorsed by the mainstream.

You might not want to think about that right now, but trust me, you should. It feels much much worse when you look back and see how much time and money you wasted, how little progress has been made, and how much worse the condition has become.

When Billy was diagnosed, the number we were given was 1 in 10 000. It’s now 1 in 68.

When Billy was diagnosed, there were two predicted trajectories – severe autism or Aspergers, with little mention of any medical involvement. Even the most conservative of autism organisations acknowledge this is no longer the case.

When Billy was diagnosed, I was assured he would be mainstreamed, healthy and happy. That is not the case for him, or for the overwhelming majority of his same age peers. It’s just not.

And no amount of cuddly sheepskin makes that feel like a good thing. Because it is not. They didn’t know much then, and they don’t know much more now. Platitudes and promises will not heal your child. Sheer hard work, rigorous research and major social change might.

Though it doesn’t feel like it, right now, I am patting you on the back.

It may not make you feel better, but I hope it makes you think.

Bite me, April 2.

In Action, Diet, Environment, Medical, Parent issues, Perceptions, Research, Supplements, Therapy on March 31, 2014 at 5:47 am

**I apologise in advance for some of the articles I have linked to in this post. In covering the dross that April brings to autism world, some toe dipping in the grotesque waters of ‘Keep Calm and Suck It Up’ is required. It is heretofore referred to as ‘glurge‘ and will be expunged from meaningfulness in due course. I’ve tried to balance with some more useful stuff as well**

It’s that time of year again. You’d think after 10 years of this game, I’d be used to it. And yet, it just gets more frustrating.

New numbers (higher again, how about that?), science vs anecdote dogma (always a joy), everything is au-some, light it up blue, awareness is everything, blah blah blah…

I used to be able to float through this stuff and find the bits I needed. Now, it’s genuinely, literally and completely making me sick. My heart is pounding, my thyroid is busted, despite a great diet and a total life revision I am chronically deficient in things I shouldn’t be deficient in. It’s crazy.

Why is it crazy?

It’s crazy because I, and many many parents like me, want nothing more than to prevent the preventable in children. We want to do this because we have seen our own healthy children regress, or we’ve seen our own children fail to develop as expected, and we don’t think other kids should have to go through this if there is any chance it can be prevented. We can all see it can be treated, to varying degrees of improved outcome, so it’s a no brainer that we should try prevent it as well.

But, say that in the wrong place and you are a bee’s dick away from Hitler. Say the ‘v’ word and eyes glaze over as people picture you as some pubic-hair-plaiting-stoner-breathairian (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Mention your own story and you are ‘ignoring the obvious science.’ Best of all, if you happen to mention anything negative about ‘autism’ in the wrong place, an autistic adult will be cruelly used as a ‘how could you question my existence’ smoke screen.

It’s all bullshit. Every last wasted ounce of energy. Clouds and clouds of nonsense that cover the fact that we have a giant, wide and deep bottomed problem on our hands and we do not know what to do about it. So instead, we will pretend it’s all OK.

Well… it’s not OK. Not with me. And I no longer care to spend time listening to people who think it’s OK. If one more mealy mouthed parent/doctor/’academic’ tells me that it’s better not to use words like disability because Billy ‘might’ not want to think of himself that way, I will start hurling Thomas trains at them. And I have access to quite a few of them.

Billy doesn’t get that choice. We made it for him.

Who ‘we’ actually are, is up for contextual discussion.

We could be his parents by choosing sub-optimal nutrition and medical intervention for ourselves and then him; or our parents for same; or his doctors for not carefully enough including the ramifications of implementing standard operating procedure again and again and again; or the autism industry that promises big, charges for more and delivers almost nothing while shrugging its shoulders and saying ‘Oh well, that’s autism’; or maybe parts of the education system that betrayed him and so many more in their covert square edge smoothing operation;  or most reprehensible of all with blue day approaching, the part of the autism community that has decided it’s more important to viciously undo those to think differently about autism than to allow people to access help in whatever form they choose.

Billy doesn’t get to pretend he is not autistic through assiduous use of behavioural therapy and medication. Billy does not get to celebrate his difference in a protected social environment full of computers, lego and pizza loving peers. Billy is too busy hauling basic human function together. If your child is not, you are fortunate NOT more correct in your choice of terminology than me. And yes, I am being charitable.

We, as his parents have every right in the world to be angry about what has happened to our son. More to the point, we have every right to advocate for change to the systems that contributed to what has happened. See a couple of paragraphs above if you are wondering what systems I am referring to.

For each of the ten years Billy’s life has been compromised by this nonsense, I have a question that is yet to be answered by the administrators of glurge.

1. What is ‘autism’?
(like what biological function causes human kids to exhibit the same triad of impairments, that we conveniently aren’t allowed to call a disability. Why are we pretending that words like inflammation, encephalopathy, seizure, motochondrial, immune dysregulation, allergy and intolerance are less preferable than picky eating, tantrum, zoned out, stimming, lazy, unfocused and hyperactive?)

2. Where are the 2% of adults with autism?
(because if it’s better diagnosis making the numbers rise then the undiagnosed hordes are somewhere, functioning sub-optimally without intervention, early or otherwise that is essential according to the powers that be. If 2% of the population were somehow able handle school without support, though most current ASD school kids find that quite challenging, which magic pixies made their adult lives suddenly tolerable?)

3. Why can’t we talk about vaccines?
(If vaccine package inserts say autism is a possible long term outcome of use, how come we accept the statement that ‘science’ says vaccines don’t cause autism? In related matters, what perverse logic says every human will react the same to any introduced substance? Has science ever been in a room full of drunk people?)

4. Why do we use ‘science’ as a weapon to shut down discussion?
(When there are countless peer reviewed studies linking vaccines and autism, why are we pretending there isn’t? OK, there are 84 here, that’s not countless, but it’s not zero either. If they aren’t convincing, search the Australian Government’s database of Adverse Event Notification. Or watch this. It is as black and white as a rainbow, anyway, between statistics as science, anecdote vs science and my personal favourite the rejection of validity because the system is screwed anyway. Clearly, science has some issues)

5. Why are people so determined to normalise what is deeply deeply atypical?
(forget, for one second the tendency to go ‘normal, what a toxic word’, and instead focus on the experience of realising your child is not achieving milestones and is instead regressing and increasingly physically sick. If autism involved 2 % of the population developing a disfiguring rash, you can bet your life we’d be addressing causation as a matter of urgency)

6. Why do we hide behind arguments about semantics?
If disability is such a dirty word, why does the CDC refer to a speech and language impairment (the thing so many parents cling to like desperate autism avoiding limpets) as a disability? So, all that ‘my kid isn’t disabled’ means exactly what to the systems that oversee the wellness of the world? While we are on ‘d’ words, why is a ‘disorder’ preferable to a ‘disease’? Why are we ‘dicking about’ pretending that arguing the values of words is more important than focusing on the actual condition we are discussing?

7. Why are we so afraid of common illness?
(let’s not sink into a pointless discussion of whether you would rather your child be disabled by autism or disease, and focus on the question of why it’s so not OK to be sick anymore. What’s wrong with a few days off school or work with the flu, well, except that the world has to adapt to the fact that you are away and that costs money, and also you lose money because no-one’s got a salaried job for life anymore… ah, OK. I see… carry on…)

8. Why have we accepted ‘there is no known cause’?
(How could any developmental condition, especially one that’s growing in impact daily, including ‘autism’ NOT be related to nutrition, the environment or the physical health of anyone involved? Seriously? After all these years? Why are we letting paediatricians say ‘we have no idea’?)

9. Why is autism intervention not related to physical health?
(How could it possibly be that improving the health of an autistic child through nutrition and lifestyle modification isn’t helpful? What deep Catholic denial was I in when I accepted that one? In other questions, why have we not studied more of the legions of children who have gone through biomedical interventions and seen improvements)

10. What are we doing about it?
(Why are we, and I refer specifically to Australia here, doing a grand total of nothing yet at a government level, to understand why more children every day are being diagnosed with ‘autism’ or how their ongoing health might be related?)

*crickets*

I’m done arguing. I’m taking action. Well, as much as my own health and my child’s health will allow.

I’m working with the system – finding alternatives in education, working with doctors with open minds and credible careers, connecting with like minded parents and service providers. We are all moving forward practically and medically, and more importantly, we are leaving the unhelpful nonsense (AKA glurge) behind.

It isn’t OK to hide behind anything. It isn’t OK to take each other down in order to build ourselves up. It is definitely not OK to co-opt people as emotive smokescreens in discussions that matter to the people having them (even if they happen to disagree with you). These things might be natural human reactions but they are also basic political strategies designed to shut down subversive agendas. We do not need to be distracted this easily.

No matter how you stand this condition up, it is an emergency. We are not set up to deal with it now, never mind to approach the future when there are not just kids unable to handle kid life, but an additional very obvious cohort of adolescents and adults unsupported in their existence.

One of them, unless we find something to help him that currently isn’t common knowledge, will be my son.

I will not let that happen. What responsible parent would?

That was another question. Ugh. He’ll be 11 soon. Indulge me.

 

IMG_6839

(Image: Clifford Harper/agraphia.co.uk)

 

Unlucky…

In Action, Diet, Environment, Medical, Parent issues, Research, Supplements on September 8, 2013 at 2:33 am

Today, in Australia, we have a new government.

It’s not the one I chose, but it’s the one I’ve got, so I’ve got to work with it… Which is kind of how I feel about the lot my kid has been handed, health wise.

The doctors say he’s unlucky. We believe something different.

Sure, we may have passed on some things that made him vulnerable, but the choices we made (under medical supervision/duress) have not helped. We were uninformed, inexperienced and like so many others, we did as we were told – because we were assured it was right, by people we trusted.

Add that to an increasingly toxic world, poor poor nutrition dressed up as health food, completely unnecessary household protection products pervading every part of us… and maybe it’s easy to understand why we have a chronically ill child.

He’s not unlucky, he’s been forced to play a game where the odds are actively and massively stacked against him.

For the uninitiated, my excellent son Billy is autistic (atypical, verbal, sensory, intellectually delayed and yet defined HF).
He has GI issues (atypical, chronic constipation and reflux, not coeliac by the traditional numbers but completely unable to tolerate gluten as well as dairy/soy/additives).
He had an auto-immune disease called Transverse Myelitis (atypical, sensing a trend here?).
He has seizures (frontal lobe, mostly generalised, tonic clonic and… atypical).

We’ve managed the GI and auto-immune fallout with diet and supplements – GFCFSF, low sugar, no additives, omegas, probiotics, enzymes – the basic stuff. The seizures are almost two years old, and we are still in the process of navigating through the world of anti convulsants.

The first medication of choice – Epilim (depakote) failed to control the seizures so we increased the dose. It packed weight onto his body then just as quickly stripped it off, sedated him, sent his TSH levels skyrocketing and as an added atypical bonus gave him OCD. It was the OCD that convinced the neurologist to change medications, not because he was concerned (lots of autistic kids have OCD), but because we were.

The second (and current) medication, Keppra, isn’t controlling the seizures either and has induced what’s known in the trade as ‘keppra rage‘, or atypical behaviour changes common in autistic kids (if you are a neurologist). His recommendation? Increase the medication, to see if it will control the seizures. We really have to comply, at this stage, as the non-pharma options require failure of at least three medications before the neurologists will mandate their use. And, yes, though every instinct is screaming caution, we trust the neurologists. They are genuinely good, open minded people and they are a critical part of all we’ve got.

Billy’s tonic clonic seizures are infrequent (every couple of months), happen mostly, though not exclusively, when we are away from home and last up to three minutes (which, oddly seems like three long, slow hours). They could be much worse, which is heartening in a truly unexpected way. The doctors say there’s no real way of knowing whether something is causing them, or whether they’ve been there all along waiting to emerge (the ‘unlucky’ theory).

I know I write a lot about wondering why this is happening to my kid, but seriously, the question never gets old.

Mainly because I can’t help thinking that ‘He might just be unlucky’ isn’t much of an answer.

It’s not much for him, who has a long life ahead of him, with much medical challenge and little medical wisdom. It’s not much for us, who are frantically trying to plan for that life in the now, and in the never-never that does not include our presence. It’s not good for the many many people who share his challenges in a country and a world that can do so much better.

So, while the blue light folk are sharing peace, love and awareness (oddly without the mung beans which are GFCF and therefore unsupported by evidence), I’m keen to spread the ‘why?’

We have a new government in this country, which makes this as good a time as any.
We have a fast growing cohort of ‘unlucky’ kids – young people diagnosed with a condition that their parents didn’t have, that limits their life journey in myriad ways, that has no known cause or treatment.
We have to do something, right?

In the lucky country – hell, in any country, it’s not good enough.

So, my plan is to see if we can convince the economic rationalists that addressing autism causation will save them money, that knowing what it is will help us prevent it and the massive costs it manifests in the education/healthcare/social services sectors, that leading the world in interventions that actually reduce those costs would shine a positive light on them and their time in government.

If an election proves nothing else, it proves that luck has nothing to do with anything. It’s about strategy, focusing on the relevant information and pushing and pushing and pushing until you get the change you want.

Our new Prime Minister is definitely aware how that works…

I’ll play his game, if it gets the result for our kids. All I need to do is encourage him to understand how he could stack the odds in their favour.

And learn how to speak conservative without a bad smell look on my face.

I’m not sure which one will be harder.

One Day on Mars…

In Environment, Medical, Research on August 2, 2013 at 11:10 pm

This article was originally published in the August 2013 issue of Autism World Magazine.

One day, the medical profession will look back, from their shiny, flying car, teleporting Martian colony. They will look back at our degraded blue planet and they will see how badly they messed up in regard to autism in the early 21st century.

While they are comparing spacesuits and patting each other on the back about their forebears’ approach to dementia and diabetes and cancer, they will see the disservice they did to our children. They will see it, because they won’t be able to avoid it. It will be as in their faces then, as it is in ours now.

Our children, who are currently struggling to cope with being children, will be adults struggling to be adults.

While a fortunate few of their number may be innovators in useful fields, many may not. Lacking the requisite normalised life skills, their additional needs will be painfully apparent.

This will likely happen for three early 21st century reasons – all solve-able, all addressable, all confronting (and therefore unsolved and unaddressed).

One.

The general population have been convinced to tip toe around adults living with autism. This tip toeing means no-one is permitted to say anything negative about autism, (except the odd anointed adult). We can’t say it’s a medical condition because sickness is a deficit. We can’t say it’s not OK for children to be permanently and unnecessarily disabled because that would be insensitive. So instead we say it’s a gift, a different not less-ism, at very worst a ‘challenge.’ People’s lips go to string when we say the word ‘disability.’

It is almost impossible to rally the forces of medicine and politics when the verbal face of the disorder is frantically yelling that the sky is not falling, they rather like the way it is burning the tips of their ears.

Two.

Doctors know a grand total of next to nothing about a disorder taking over the lives of 2% of the population. They have somehow decided that dysfunctional and atypical behaviour just happens – that there is no medical basis to something that stops children from talking, eating and sleeping. They seem agreed that completely disrupted gastrointestinal systems, immune conditions and seizures are nothing to raise flags about. There is little incentive for them to find out more because to do so would be to turn their very world on it’s head and spin it so fast the people would fall out.

It is impossible to arrest the development of a behavioural disorder of no known cause. So, we don’t. Instead, we recommend training kids not to behave ‘badly.’ Just like we would if they had the flu. Or not.

Three.

We have normalised the common, and lost touch with the typical. Autism is common – therefore it is normal. We have done this about more than autism. We think pop tarts are food. We think multi-nationals have our backs. We believe chemicals are better than weeds in our gardens.

So, we sit politely and allow doctors to tell us we should accept that every second child is speech delayed, has trouble making friends, screams blue murder because of the tags in their clothes or seams in their socks. We do more than accept their word, though, we then minimise it with platitudes about acceptance.

And by minimising it, we condone it in more and more and more children. Why not? It’s common.

But here’s the thing.

The doctors are trained to fix things. If we tell them we believe our children don’t need fixing, then guess what? They go fix the diabetics instead. They have strategies for that – diet, lifestyle, supplements, medication and ongoing rigorous roll of research aimed at understanding and preventing diabetes.

The kind of things autism needs to explore.

Resources are limited. There’s currently little money in autism prevention (given that you can’t patent a supplement and all those amphetamines and SSRIs won’t sell themselves)  – though all of that’s likely to change as the education/healthcare/welfare/housing systems start realising what’s heading their way.

There are only a few medical research facilities around the world that genuinely investigate autism as a medical condition and demand light be shed on child health policy; that listen to the life stories of autistic people and their carers.

Yet, there are educated and committed families everywhere yelling those same stories to deaf ears.

If we lived by the platitudes we throw around on social media, we would all agree that we would rather children weren’t disabled. No-one gets likes on Facebook by saying, ‘Spina bifida is awesome! Chill out on those pre-natal vitamins.’

We need the medical profession onside, and normalising a growing, debilitating, complexifying disorder won’t do that.

More children are disabled. More children are sick. More children are dying. A small number are coping, clearly buoyed by the power of blue light and rainbow puzzle pieces.

Doctors have nothing. Teachers are overwhelmed. Politicians have no imperative to magically multiply already stretched resources.

Yet, we have allowed ourselves to be convinced ‘autism’ is more important that people. We have prioritised the status of a concept, and the esteem of adults who live with it, over the health of actual people.

Give me a break: Give children a break.

Accept that if we can avoid autism, we should avoid autism. Just like we do with diabetes or dementia, where adults with the condition have the open-heartedness to admit it’s something worth avoiding if you can.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the air-locked schools and hospitals in the shiny new Mars colony weren’t still arguing about autism?

Wouldn’t it be nice if the future money could be spent on supporting clean living and healthy families.

Wouldn’t it be nice if children weren’t being left behind in that shiny utopia because their needs are minimised, confused or misunderstood?

Actually, wouldn’t it be nice if that was happening now?

If you would like to purchase Autism World Magazine, subscribe to the digital download via this page http://www.autismoz.com/purchase-2/ or if you have an iPad download the free app then purchase/subscribe from within the app.

All these canaries are so lovely…

In Environment, Medical, Perceptions, Research on August 1, 2013 at 5:41 am

Today we spent the morning with a geneticist at a major children’s hospital.

She was lovely, especially to Billy. She asked a lot of questions, wrote a lot of stuff down, listened very carefully, took a lot of photos and measurements and was intensely respectful.

She noted his hypermobility, his dysmorphic features, his medical diagnoses and reactions to medications and interventions. She heard it all, saw it all, acknowledged it all, even restrained herself from slagging off our dietary/lifestyle interventions.

All good.

The wrap up?

There’s no doubt in the world Billy is different from a typically developing child of his age. There’s no doubt he’s different to other kids with autism too. There’s no chance in 2013 that we can understand why.

She suggested a pencil grip (yeah, really), some core strength building activity (because seven years of OT has clearly been intensely useful) and a sense of gratitude that he’s not worse.

I made a few attempts to get her to understand that ‘hooray, he can talk’ isn’t going to help him get a job when he’s 18. I tried to light a little ‘this really isn’t right’ fire under her. She took it with more grace than most stethoscope wielders.

Does the last two hours mean anything? Change anything? Help anything?

Nope.

Don’t get me I’m exceptionally thrilled that there’s no obvious genetic syndrome screaming out for attention. I’m very grateful for that fact. It was unlikely that his ‘autism’ had a genetic cause, though the addition of hypermobility, auto-immune disease, GI issues and epilepsy makes a genetic cause slightly more likely. Hence the box ticking appointment.

The question remains, if we rule out genetics, WTF is going on? Chance? Bad luck? Or some deliberate choices we and others made on his behalf that kicked this game of Mousetrap into action?

The blank wall of ‘we don’t know’ is a way too familiar medical view in our lives.

We’re running out of ‘WEs’ to talk to, and there are two reasons why that’s both depressing and frightening.

The first is that the list of ailments in our kid grows, not shrinks, with time.
From hyperacusis, to hypermobility to GI issues to transverse myelitis to epilepsy. No-one medical knows why (bar the fact that some people who share an ‘autism’ dx have some of these things). No-one medical has non-pharmaceutical treatments or treatments that actually heal (rather than mask). No-one knows if anything else is coming. And yet, the impairment in him increases, against all spin- sorry, ‘odds’. The gap between him and his peers widens, and we see clearly he is not alone.

The second is that we live in a medical and political world that has been convinced autism is not a medical condition, with associated causations and solutions.
They have chosen to work on the notion that autism is either (a) severe or (b) magically overcomeable with behavioural training. The wave of autistic kids born in the 2000s kids are heading for adolescence and it’s not gone. The way smaller cohort of 90s births are aging out of school and guess what? It’s not gone. The later in life diagnoses, who managed to get through things that most kids with autism now have no chance of getting through are happily telling us all we should accept autism and leave our kids be. Which would be awesome, if leaving my kid be wouldn’t result in him walking in front of a car, ceasing all defecating activity and wondering what the hell happened to all the food.

Billy is currently a child with a serious disability. On paper, he is nothing of the kind.
‘High-functioning’ autism is not highly rated in the world of disability. He can talk. He is mobile. He has a level of emotional regulation. He’s not violent to himself or others.

He’ll grow up, dodging what ever medical conditions may be ‘lurking in there waiting to come out’ (the words of his neurologist), into a world that thinks he’s just fine thanks very much. He does not qualify for support, he does not have ‘high needs’, he’s just ‘different, not less’.

While we have a medical fraternity that thinks it’s OK to say ‘we don’t know why’, we have politicians who say ‘we don’t need to know why’ and we have a world that says ‘we don’t care why’.

It won’t (I fervently hope) surprise anyone that when it is your child this is happening to, you do not think it’s good enough.

He’s not bleeding from an artery. He doesn’t have cancer. He’s not strapped to a chair. We are incredibly fortunate we do not have to deal with these things currently, as many families do.

What he is, though, is one of almost 3% of our current child population in Australia (and climbing, and it’s no different anywhere else).

What he is, is mysteriously disabled (unlikely genetic, possibly environmentally, possibly preventably, possibly treatably).

What he is, is the canary in the coalmine.

And I adore the canary.

The coalmine… not so much.

The ones who dug the coalmine…? Who manage the coalmine…? Who spin shit about the state of the coalmine…?

They’re the ones I’d like ten minutes with.

They’re the ones who have a responsibility to care about the ‘why’, before there are so many canaries flapping their pretty feathers in their faces,  they’ll have no choice.

Leap off the hook, if you dare…

In Action, Environment, Medical, Parent issues, Research, Uncategorized on June 11, 2013 at 12:02 pm

Today, I unfriended someone I barely know on Facebook. I’m not a massive un-friender, as I’m of the opinion that virtual relationships are not the ones I should get too stressed about.

But today, I drew a line, and I think it’s a healthy one.

The un-friending came because the friend in question posted something about vaccination. It was an article about how if only a family had vaccinated their child, the child would have been alive. It’s a big call, not one that has any possible basis in provable fact, but more to the point, it made me think.

Here’s what it made me think.

I don’t care to engage with people who have not been dragged screaming into autism world about the issues pertinent to autism. I don’t think it is relevant or even interesting. Whether it is about vaccination or diet or environmental toxins or social policy… I’m out. Talk amongst yourselves.

I would like to speak about those things with doctors and researchers and policy makers and public officials. I don’t care what the general populous do, think or care about. And I mean that with great love.

The crisis we face, within the autism community (a screaming need for rigor, research and respect) is huge. It will hit the mainstream soon enough, when the costs drastically escalate and I’m sure they will care about it then. For now though, generalised awareness means nothing to me.

And here’s why.

Whenever there is an obvious crisis, such as the devastating tragedy involving Alex Spourdalakis, the general public (and many of the particularly shiftless within the autism community) leap gleefully on the opportunity to distance themselves from the crisis. People make disgusting statements on social media and on the websites of media outlets condemning people they don’t know, claiming all sorts of stuff they ‘knew all along’.

From a safe turret of moral high ground, people and their lack of anything resembling real-life understanding crow self-righteously, shoring up their own correctness. They use tragedy to reinforce their own life choices.

So a baby dying of whooping cough, is a reason to pat themselves on the back for vaccinating their own child (and thankfully avoiding the tragedy of an adverse event).

A child being denied medical care is a reason to believe medical care is not required by their child (happily pushing responsibility for their child’s condition onto their own child’s temperament/genetics/luck).

A alternate thinking medical professional being shouted down by the system is a reason to believe the system is doing the right thing (conveniently forgetting the ever growing reason that medical professional is speaking out in the first place).

I can’t imagine living in a world where I was looking for reasons to not take action. I can’t imagine caring about opening my mouth to shout ‘the system is perfect, we should question nothing and suspect those who suggest such a thing!’

Well, not unless I had a vested interest in not acknowledging or fixing anything…

The reality, for many of us in autism world, is that our children are one of many facing an uncertain tomorrow, never mind an uncertain future.

Most average people, as much as I want them to (at the very least) empathise with our family’s plight are too busy washing rugby outfits, stressing about their dogs and working out how to pay their mortgages. They don’t have the space in their minds to consider preventative autism policy, phenol reduction vs GAPS or why teachers forget everything they claim to know about the spectrum when their day gets busy.

And I think that’s completely OK.

If I didn’t have to police every foodstuff that enters my son’s personal space, I bloody wouldn’t. I dream of dropping him off at school and doing… something indulgent like working in the company of adults. I’m hopeful there will be a day (and a night) where every twitch, pause or drool isn’t the beginning of a seizure.

So, here’s my gift to the general public, and anyone else who wants it.

You are off the hook. I genuinely don’t care what you think about what I think. I have no judgement of what you do and I bear only the teeniest grudge (hey, I’m nothing if not honest) that your child wasn’t whacked with the random shatter-your-life stick mine was.

It’s OK.

If you don’t want to be autism aware, don’t be. If you don’t want to dig deeper into the key autism issues, don’t. You have other things to think about. Think about them. Do what is important to you. Turn off the blue lightbulbs and chuck out the stupid puzzle pieces, they are useless anyway. Live your lives, do your jobs, be nice to everyone, including the autistic among us.

And now that you are in the clear, let me train my beady eyes elsewhere.

Doctors, heads up. I am coming. And I’m not happy.
You need to lift your game, autism wise. No more denials. No more writing off the concerns of your patients. No more pressuring people to do things that are counter-intuitive. You need to listen, nod politely and action at least one thing that we ask of you. Instead of saying, ‘there’s no evidence of that’, admit that evidence had eluded you or is agin your philosophy or has yet to be established. Instead of insisting current practice is safe, do me a solid, look my child in the eye and admit we could do better.

Researchers, no hiding behind the snack table… I’d like a word.
Who’s driving your decision making? Because if it’s you, what’s stopping you from wondering why autism rates are accelerating at a frightening pace. If you are one who currently thinks it’s overdiagnosis, or the rise of the super doctor, please go to a school and pick a random teacher, preferably one who has been teaching for 10+ years. Ask them what they think about the number of kids with high support needs in the mainstream. Then come back and convince whoever drives your decision making that you should start asking some questions. I’m not going to waste finger strokes going through my question suggestions, because many of us have done it many times before. Besides, you need to engage properly with the issues, rather than spend yet another year proving the unproveable (you know the game… without A, B would not be possible). Please stop talking to the ones you know, and front up to the ones who need your help.

Finally, politicians. We really need to talk.
I know right now in this country, you are busy starting and stomping on bushfires in preparation for the election. But once your burns heal, 2% of your children have some needs you are ignoring right now. Right now they involve education, therapies and medical care. In the blink of a parliamentary eye, they will also be needing housing, lifelong welfare and intensive medical assistance. None of these things are cheap now, and currently the adults in these kids’ lives are handling the cost (we’re the ones that inexplicably carry higher levels of personal debt than you would like and yet lack spectacular electrical goods or sports vehicles). However, those adults won’t be around forever. That’s where you come in. Because as much as you are currently being sold a happy line about interventions wiping the autism (and its pesky additional needs) out of 50% of the diagnosed cohort, the reality is something much more closely resembling… the complete screaming opposite. Listen to the people, not the people who are profiting from the people. They may promise to put a rose coloured wall between you and the costly reality of autism, but they have not, they can not and they will not.

In an ideal world, we’d all care about everything that needed care. In the real world, we just don’t. We care about what has an effect on our lives, and from that care, in some, comes action.

I don’t care who wins rugby matches of any level, at any time, in any place. I love and celebrate the fact that other people take that pressure off me.

I don’t care about any dog beyond my own. Again, I am trilled that other people take on the world’s canine dramas, and I adore them for their passion.

I don’t care who vaccinates and who doesn’t.

I care about changing the system so we know who is vulnerable to the effects my son and many others suffered, so we can minimise those catastrophes.

I care about cleaning up the environment for a bunch of reasons, not the least of which is to avoid making more kids vulnerable to ‘mysterious’ developmental disorders.

I care about fixing our food supply, revising our approach to medication, being rational about the limitations of our current education and health systems.

I care that the people whose job it is to make the world as safe as possible stop denying that autism is a massive issue and start making it less so – by being brave, asking questions and following through.

And I do care a little about the feelings of the un-friended person. I don’t want her to feel bad. I want her to feel free to speak her truth to those who want or need to hear it.

Her  lack of Facebook regard for the issues in my Facebook life is as OK as my lack of Facebook regard for whatever Facebook issues are crucial to her.  When we are both off Facebook, away from the realm of likes and links, we can change the world, much more effectively.

I will miss the pictures of bowtie wearing kittens, of course, but some sacrifices must be made for the greater good.

Wellness, Recovery and the odd black cat…

In Action, Diet, Environment, Medical, Parent issues, Perceptions, Research, Supplements, Therapy on June 1, 2013 at 2:58 am

Today, I watched this video again, because it popped up on my timeline and I hit play, like the trained monkey I am.

I rejected the school of thought in this video when Billy was a toddler.

I rejected it because I was encouraged to believe autism was not an illness, but a condition that I should just accept. So, I did not treat it. I managed it instead.

It is one of my biggest regrets.

When ‘actual’ illness became apparent in Billy (transverse myelitis, GI inflammation and now epilepsy), we jumped straight into treatment. As any human beings would. Illness needs treatment, right?

Put yourselves in our shoes – if you were told to just manage your four year old who was paralyzed from the waist down, mysteriously after a short bout of vomiting, would you go… Oh, OK? If you were told that your seven year old should just manage chronic constipation with no reasonable cause, would you go… Yeah, no worries? If your child was regularly woken from sleep with violent whole body seizures, would you just put a blanket on him and go back to sleep?

No, of course you wouldn’t. Of course we wouldn’t. And thankfully, his doctors wouldn’t either.

While I have massive issues with many of the medical experiences we have had, I want to be really clear about something.

The medical doctors will treat (to the best of their knowledge and ability) Billy’s medical conditions – auto-immune disease, constipation, reflux, epilepsy. A rare one will see, and maybe speak about, the fact that these conditions are occurring in the body of a person diagnosed with autism. They generally speak in terms of ‘coincidence’, a lack of luck or a series of unfortunate lightening strikes, but at least they notice.

We are now seeing (more and more) the emergence of an arm of the medical community that will speak louder and with medical authority about this. I for one am very grateful.

Because it might surprise you to know that, as Billy’s mother, I do not see any of this as co-incidence, I don’t believe in luck and I try as hard as I can to keep him safe from lightening strikes – real or metaphorical.

(As a side note, I’m genuinely shocked that doctors feel OK about using such non-scientific language, when their own first defense against autism parents’ concerns that vaccines/toxins/immunological events might play a role in their child’s wellness is… science. But I digress.)

Last month, at the MINDD International Forum, I was able to interview a few of the doctors who have changed the way I think about my son’s life. Actually, they are the doctors who affirm the parents who changed the way I think about my son’s life. But as this is getting a little bit too ‘lady who swallowed a fly’, I’ll clarify.

I spoke with Dr Martha Herbert, who appears in the video I linked above. I spoke with Dr Elizabeth Mumper, Dr Ron Erlich and Dr Robyn Cosford among many others. I spoke with Julie Matthews, the nutritionist who has forged a rational and evidence based path for so many autism parents. I spoke with incredible parents like Kris Barrett who have revolutionised their own professional practice in response to their own life journey.

The message from all these people was the same:
Making improvements in diet and lifestyle = improved  health
Treating underlying chronic disease = improved health
Improved health = improved functioning

Unsurprisingly, I came away thinking I am intensely fortunate for doing the work I do. More importantly, I really really really really wish I had been less cynical when this ground was being broken when Billy was tiny.

Because here’s the thing.

We are a canary family, in a whole generation of canaries. We are brighter and yellower than many, though by no means the most canary like.

Billy couldn’t be more medically autistic if he tried.

I was convinced when he was little that he was completely atypically autistic (and therefore inelligible for the raging hope that biomed offered) because he was not a behavioural kid. He didn’t tantrum. He didn’t spin. He didn’t rage.  I would look at these stories of kids yelling and biting and kicking at the world, and think, ‘my beautiful toddler is just autistic, he’s not sick. This stuff can’t help Billy.’

In the most perverse statement I will ever make, I will say Billy is fortunate to have become so very obviously unwell.

And before you diagnose me with Munchhausens by proxy, or call child protection, let me explain.

By separating Billy’s medical life from his autistic life, as we had done, we put ourselves in a unique position to see what happens when you treat the underlying medical conditions that manifest in an autism diagnosis.

When we treated his auto-immune illness with massive IV prednisone, his language improved overnight. Overnight.

When we treated his constipation and reflux (with diet, probiotics, enzymes and omega oils) his social skills improved. Noticably.

When we treated his seizures with anti-convulsants, his cognition took a huge leap.

When we changed our lives, we changed his ‘luck’.

I don’t give a crap if you call it recovery, or wellness or life… Billy’s existence is better. He is better.

None of these solutions are perfect, the journey will go on for his whole life, I imagine. But we’re on it. We’re driving it, and it’s making things better.

I spend my days talking to autism parents on various places on this journey. Some hardcore recovery journeyfolk, some dabbling in ‘the diet’, some adamantly opposed to the idea that autism is anything more than a roll of the genetic and behavioural dice.

Each to their own, I say. Despite drastic differences of belief and practice, I don’t know any autism parent who doesn’t think they are doing the best they can for their child.

In fact, I find it beyond ridiculous that parents would choose to use a difference of perception to reinforce the validity of their own path. Take yours and run with it, I reckon. All I ask is that instead of using the differences between your experiences and mine as a reason to reject my reality, I’d encourage you to learn from my experience.

I didn’t think my child was sick. I thought he was unlucky, and somehow we just had to live with that. We had to force him out into the world, with a few swings on an OT’s rope and some flash cards as weapons against a world that made him choose muteness over communication.

The pressure of doing that (or maybe time, inevitability, the manifestation of staring too many black cats in the eyes… whatever) made him really sick. When we treated the sickness effectively, the unlucky stuff improved too.

Billy still qualifies for an autism diagnosis, and I’m not thinking that will ever change. Billy will likely have lifelong support needs. But, Billy is much, much, much better and I have every hope that will continue.

He is no longer unlucky. He is on a path to wellness that can not help but improve his life.

I have no doubt that the path we are on now has genuinely recovered children from the medical conditions that can manifest in an autism diagnosis. I have no doubt that this path doesn’t ‘cure’ others. Just the same as some cancer treatments work for some people and not for others.

This isn’t a framework of magic bullets and miracle cures. It’s about health.

I rejected it because it seemed like the former, but it is actually about the latter.

Billy’s health is doing what health should – it is healing.

For those who take perverse pleasure in bringing down those who are courageous enough to take control of their child’s health, I say, who are you helping?

For those who say it’s dangerous quackery and parents should be warned against it, I say, do you think we are that stupid?

For those who think autism is just fine, I say, enjoy the ride and good luck to your grandchildren.

Eighty years ago, if your child developed acute leukaemia, you were told to try a blood transfusion and prepare your goodbyes. These days advances in medicine and more importantly in our understanding of what leukaemia is, mean the treatment and prognosis is entirely different.

We study, we learn, we change… in relation to all sorts of medical/social conditions, and until we genuinely accept autism as a medical condition, we cannot reasonably expect change.

In the meantime, I have grains to grind and nut milk to make.

And black cats to stare down. Just in case.

It’s April 2

In Action, Diet, Environment, Medical, Parent issues, Perceptions, Research, Supplements, Therapy on April 2, 2013 at 2:15 am

It's April 2

Red for Action.
I’m aware already.

Sometimes things are so stupid they’re barely worth linking to…

In Action, Environment, Medical, Parent issues, Perceptions, Research, Supplements on March 22, 2013 at 10:12 am

On the same day the CDC grudgingly admitted autism numbers in the USA have hit 1 in 50 (1 in 31 boys), another couple of curiosities emerged.

A study, from Harvard University (no less) linking childhood abuse and autism and a woman’s chance of giving birth to a child who would eventually be diagnosed with autism. There were cursory attempts to link the physiological effects of childhood abuse (stress on the immune system, brain chemicals rhubarb, rhubarb) to the creation of a child vulnerable to autism.

Also, a Swedish study linking young grandfathers and autism. I lost the train that logically connected the young grandfathers and autism, while I medicated my son’s seizures and attempted to soothe him from the whole body attack that is a dog barking in the distance. Though I suspect I lost it, because it’s so effing ridiculous that giving it thought would be insulting to my synapses.

It’s hilarious how we are often accused of spurious concept connections as autism parents (oh, the autism/MMR thing is a complete coincidence of timing… oh, he would have learned to control his anger with maturity and not all those whacky diets and supplements etc etc etc) yet ‘science’ can draw the longest bows known to man, and we’re supposed to go, ‘Oh, of course, that makes total sense because someone with Dr in front of their name said it.’

Nothing to see here. Move on. Smile at the doctor or he’ll say you have Somatic Symptom Disorder.

The timing is suspicious. But there’s a bigger suspicion/question/brain conniption.

There is no compulsion currently on anyone to publish research. It’s a big bone of contention in research internationally. So why publish these studies? And why publicise them on the same day as the CDC admissions (oddly impossible to find on the CDC website)?

Can you say, ‘Oh look, an unusual looking butterfly!’?

Many folk way smarter and better connected than me have spoken about the importance of the international community waking up and smelling the autism flavoured coffee.

My rant for today is about why in heavens name we are persisting in ‘studying’ things we cannot control?

I have absolutely no control over the fact that both my grandfathers were well advanced in age by the time I was born. I also have no control over whether I suffered abuse as a child (OK, I know that’s marginally contentious and if you want to see how insanely dinosaur like some members of the Australian media are about issues like this, click here.)

I have control over… um, wow… just about everything else. What I eat, what I wear, what chemicals I use and consume, where I live, how I sleep, what I put in/on/around my body, and let’s not even start on the choices I make about my child. We have control over those things. We all do.

Why are we not studying them?

Where’s the funding for the ‘how about a year without E numbers?’ study?

Who’s the Bill Gates of NOT filling our bodies full of foreign substances?

We are being fed the information that it is important to feed us.

And we are living with the consequences of not questioning it.

Even my cranky old grandfather would have been able to see that.

Before he died.

Old.

Air Pollution is bad? Really?

In Environment on January 19, 2013 at 2:04 am

Air Pollution is bad? Really?

Some light reading.