Valerie Foley

Archive for the ‘Perceptions’ Category

Surely we can do this better…

In Medical, Parent issues, Perceptions, Research on May 22, 2014 at 1:51 am

On 19 May, 2014 mainstream media put an issue to bed.

Vaccines don’t cause autism. Once and for all. Let’s all accept the truth and move on.

The headlines were based on a paper published by the University of Sydney. My hometown. A great university. My interest was piqued. Oddly, it was produced by a research unit within the Discipline of Surgery, but it’s got the university logo on there. Seemed legit. The author appeared on the radio, soon after, and spoke to his paper. It was an unusual interview but again, I’m involved and interested… so I went looking for the paper.

It’s called ‘Vaccines are not associated with autism: a meta-analysis of case-control and cohort studies’. And unless you live in a box, you will have heard something about it over the last couple of days.

This paper is truly one of the oddest things I have ever seen, and I have seen a few odd things.

From its curious authors, the vehemently inaccurate promotion of the paper, the gleeful grasping of spuriously false headlines and finally, and most importantly, the paper itself… in my opinion, it’s the academic embodiment of the Chinese ‘interesting times’ proverb.

Let’s take a look.

First though, read the paper. Right through. Follow the links to the studies it references.

Follow the links in this post. I’m not trying to make anyone think anything, and I could care less how people process their own choices.

Clearly I am pro-vaccine safety. What you are is your own business.

Give this some time. It actually deserves it, if you genuinely care about whether there is indeed a link between vaccines and autism.

 

First, lets take a look at the authors.

Luke E Taylor (1)

This individual, the number one author, is a bit of a mystery. He doesn’t seem to come up on PubMed, apart from this article.

Could be this guy, a recent graduate of Brown University. He’s listed as a ‘senior’ in 2013. I’m assuming they don’t mean me to insert ‘citizen’ after that. He’s very interested in coal divestment.

Or it could be some mysterious unpublished very recent graduate of an Australian university. See Amy L. Swerdfeder, below.

 

Amy L Swerdfeger (1)

She seems to be a recently graduated medical student, with a Bachelor of Surgery completed in 2013. No stated link to autism or child health. She contributed to this paper as a student, one would assume, unless the paper was thrown together in three months, which would surely be problematic, in academic terms.

Previous to her medical study, Amy was a chemical engineer with Roche. She has one publication listed on PubMed. It’s this one.

 

Dr Guy D Eslick (2)

The man is an epidemiologist. His stated research interests on the University of Sydney’s website are:

My research has primarily focused on determining risk factors and understanding the epidemiology of gastrointestinal diseases for the most part upper gastrointestinal cancers, predominantly, esophageal cancer and related disorders. I am also interested in understanding the epidemiology of Rare Cancers.

He’s highly published, very experienced, clearly credible in his field.

Am I the only one who thinks it’s odd that his field has never included autism, childhood disease prevention, autism… any of the stuff that would indicate an interest in this paper. Dr Eslick says in the New York Post he was inspired by watching ‘medical documentaries on the issue’… Which seems totally legit, because research dollars are just lying around on the floor of universities and inspired TV watcher-academics can just pick them up and use them for whatever.

 

To summarise:

The two lead authors have NEVER published (well, at least they don’t exist on PubMed and we’re told that’s where we should be looking) and unsurprisingly have not spoken on behalf of the paper in the media. They may or may not have been students when the paper was created.

The 2nd author, sometimes referred to as the ‘senior author’ or ‘corresponding author’ (presumably because he might be the only one with a current paying job in the field of academia) is well published, in other fields of medicine. His children had febrile seizures post vax, but he wasn’t scared away because he gave them paracetamol they are just fine now. Pretty solid proof that vaccines don’t cause autism, right? Well, solid enough that he included that little anecdote in the paper.

He spoke so poorly in the media on behalf of not just the paper, but the general area of autism causation, he may as well have not turned up. FWIW, if you are going to slam Wakefield (and it’s totally your right), it would make sense if you slammed as though you had read the retracted paper. Then you would be able to slam it accurately. TL/DR… it doesn’t mention not vaccinating kids. Not once. Even though you claimed it does on radio.

If a transcript or podcast for Guy Eslick’s interview on the ABC appears, I will link it, but aside from a lot of odd mumbling… he said something very unusual in an interview with Richard Glover on ABC 702 (our public broadcast station here in Sydney).

He said the paper references a study comparing autism rates in vaxed and unvaxed children. (It does no such thing. It references a study comparing children vaccinated with thimerosal containing vaccines and vaccines containing no thimerosal. A very very different thing).

A vaxed vs unvaxed study is the one thing that has not been done, and is the one thing that is being consistently called for by both the autism community and concerned members of the US Congress.

Why would a professional epidemiologist, ‘inspired’ by something he’d seen on a screen, make a mistake about an important key finding of his own study?

 

Then there’s the paper itself.

Touted in the media as a study that blows the lid off the idea that vaccines could cause autism, a study that involved over 1.2 million kids and a triumph for Autism Speaks (my personal favourite given that their only involvement unless there’s something going on that I can’t identify was to promote its publication on their website).

It’s not a study. It’s a meta-analysis. Calling it a study is like calling a cardboard shanty town a brand new housing development.

It’s not new information, and therefore not anything resembling news. Being a meta analysis, it collates and reviews old information. That’s the point. The idea that the autism community would somehow benefit from the arbitrary collation of information that most thinking parents are very familiar with and have ready access to is perverse to say the least.

It isn’t published by anyone with a link to previous autism research or vaccine science and works very hard to state its independence and lack of conflict of interest. Given its publication under the auspices of the University of Sydney, the authors should not need to state within the paper that they don’t feel remotely conflicted. Unless, of course, the lady doth protest too much.

Autism Speaks pushed this baby hard. So much so that their news release was shared 34.5 thousand times on FB (as of 3 days after they released it). Compare this with 737 shares of an older passionate John Elder Robison plea to self advocates, and 559 pitiful clicks for a gut bacteria article.

 

The content of the paper raises many hairs located on or near the back of my neck, as well.

Studies that drew their cohort from actual VAERS reports were excluded.

Papers that recruited their cohort of participants solely from the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) in the United States were not included due to its many limitations and high risk of bias including unverified reports, under reporting, inconsistent data quality, absence of an unvaccinated control group and many reports being filed in connection with litigation.

So, actual studies involving individual people who managed to get their adverse event report through the system (no mean feat) were excluded because of possible bias. But studies funded by public health officials, with legitimate vested interests in promoting universal vaccination and companies with stated interests in the area… they were a-ok. On other matters, I wonder, if VAERS is a cesspool of bias, where is the reliable information relating to adverse events in relation to vaccine administration? I guess it… um… doesn’t exist.

On VAERS, a fine system if you can kick it into gear, I hear, the authors seem to have forgotten something. It’s American. The authors are Australian, and while I fully concede the internet brings us all together in an amazing way, it doesn’t make us all American. Why an Australian epidemiologist would, in the conclusion of his paper, encourage me (an Australian reader who lives in his city) to make a report of an adverse event following vaccination to VAERS is beyond me. We have a fine system here called AEFI. It’s a different system as our governments are distinctly different. Unless, of course, the paper was not written for me, but for a distinctly American audience. Odd, as it includes in its analysis papers from the UK, Europe, and Japan (and strangely, no Australian data). Also odd, as it is a paper from the University of Sydney, but yay for globalism.

 

It’s a study of statistics.

Epidimiology is a wonderful field, that has saved many lives by analyzing and predicting trends in disease. But is it the best way to view the potential safety of individual vaccines on individual human children?

In my experience, using statistics to analyze and predict the safety of a vaccine to an individual child (because that’s what it comes down to when you do the ‘vax hold’ on your baby in the GP’s office) is an interesting tactic.

It’s like telling someone who is just about to slam on the brakes because a semi-trailer has jack-knifed at high speed in front of them, that its OK because this stretch of road has had less accidents on it than the road they took yesterday.

The two things are related, and semi relevant to each other,  just not in relation to the actual decision at hand.

But it’s powerful hoo doo for the family driving down the same stretch of road tomorrow. It’s way safer than the alternate route, statistically. So their chances of making it to Grandma’s house in one piece are high.

It means very little to yesterday’s driver. But very little means much to them, as they are (best case scenario) recovering from a serious road accident.

 

It’s spurious science anyway.

A couple of quotes from the paper that make me go, ‘Hmmm…’

“The only review to suggest that a link could not be excluded was that by Ratajczak looking into the aetiology of autism and concluded that it is multifactorial involving genetics and/or inflammation of the brain caused by a wide variety of environmental toxins, one of which may be mercury.”

Aaaaaaand, this isn’t significant because…? In a selective analysis that excludes studies of actual adverse events, one related study backs up the concerns of parents worldwide and it’s not significant because it’s only one of lots that say other things, statistically.

But sure, no link. Whatevs. No link in any of these either, right?

 

“Studies were included that looked at either MMR vaccination, cumulative mercury (Hg) or cumulative thimerosal dosage from vaccinations to ensure all proposed causes of ASD or regression were investigated.

ALL proposed causes of ASD or regression? That’s a broad church. One that is not even remotely charted by looking at three very limited issues.

 

“While at the level of the individual avoidance of immunisation may be seen as conferring lower risk by avoiding possible associated adverse events, the increase in parents deciding to take this course of action has substantially decreased ‘herd immunity’ among populations, subsequently increasing the risk of catching potentially more serious infectious diseases”

Apart from being the world longest sentence, and virtually impossible to decipher… I need some references on this one. How do we know parents choosing to not immunize because they want to avoid possible adverse events (and not because of their religious beliefs, social morays, they fear needles) has substantially decreased ‘herd immunity’. And while we are at it, why put herd immunity in inverted commas? Unless it might not be a totally reliable medical thing, but a very effective marketing strategy. After all, life long immunity from a naturally fought infection doesn’t require booster shots for anyone in the herd.

While I’m on this paragraph, how do those infectious diseases become MORE serious as a result of people choosing not to vaccinate against them? I’d really like a reference on that.

 

Finally, the title of the paper. ‘Vaccines are not associated with autism: An evidence based meta-analysis of case-control and cohort studies’

Good solid stuff right there. Sends a clear message to the punters.

It does however fail to acknowledge that the paper looks at studies that looked at the MMR, DTP/DT (known as DTaP in Australia) and ‘thimerosal-containing vaccines’. So, the other vaccines, the ones that don’t contain thimerosal, Hg mercury or aren’t the MMR (that would be the vast majority of the Australian vax schedule)… those ones are OK? Aren’t vaccines at all? Must be fine because these ones are totally OK?

This is really really dodgy PR. It’s not information parents can use to feel safer about the relationship between vaccines and ‘autism’ or the actual risks to their individual child.

Well, not if you look past the sound bites.

And if you do want to look beyond the soundbites, please please look here. Heather White’s detailed analysis of the science behind in this study is seriously the most useful thing you will read on this matter.

 

My questions.

1. Inspiration aside, why would academics, under the pump and struggling for resources, develop and  publish a paper on a subject area that is not their own?

Unpublished number one authors, total lack of experience in the area the paper focuses, odd American slant on an Australian university paper… what’s going on here?

This is like getting a caterpillar to teach nutrition because it likes to eat vegetables. It seems like a cute and semi-credible idea, but really it’s just plain odd.

 

2. Why did this paper get so much airtime?

It’s not new information. It’s all accessible. It ignores actual studies based on actual reports of adverse events reported in the USA. It ignores data from its own country.

Leave aside the science, and just look at the methods. This isn’t world shattering stuff, simply a new look at old data.

And yet, almost thirty five thousand shares from AS alone, in three days. 3.5 thousand hits on a google news search.

 

3. When people around the world, including Australia, have children whose major post vaccination afflictions include seizures, gastrointestinal disturbance, auto immune disease, encephalopathy, mitochondrial disorders and progressive connective tissue disorders… why do we continue to ignore them?

Maybe because it’s easier to think of those conditions as the mystery meat of developmental medicine than call them what they are – autism. Or maybe because what they are saying is scary. Or maybe because the change that would be required if we listened properly seems so huge, it’s better to let Forbes Magazine call them crazy. Over and over and over. It’s better to shut down rational thought, and replace it with a smokescreen of big words and calmative statistics.

A generation of ‘coincidental’ paediatric collateral damage is not good enough, as an outcome of this ‘discussion’. It’s just not.

I get people’s need to feel safe. I had it too. I felt really safe, before I vaccinated my child. I did the ‘right’ thing. And it all turned to health custard. My son is disabled for life, in a world that doesn’t recognize his disability as chronic, treatable, preventable or medical. That does not make me feel safe. I can’t contemplate what it will do for him when we are gone.

Comparing misery is a dirty game, so ‘would you rather a child with ‘seizures, gastrointestinal disturbance, auto immune disease, encephalopathy, mitochondrial disorders and progressive connective tissue disorders AKA autism or a kid with measles?’ is a very poor argument.

Standing up and asking the real questions, calmly, rationally, without fear mongering and without the might of Autism Speaks denial behind it, might just be a more mature approach.

Don’t you think?

Excuse me while I ask this guy.

 

Image

(OK, he’s a worm… damned internet, misrepresenting the ‘truth’ again)

 

 

 

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)

 

I listen to the radio…

In Medical, Parent issues, Perceptions, Research on February 19, 2014 at 8:10 am

I’m a big fan of public radio. I have been for as long as I have had control of a radio dial. I was the nerdy teenager who fell asleep to Phillip Adams and not Duran Duran.

Now I’m middle aged and I sit in the millieu comfortably in so many ways. Except for one.

I have a child with chronic medical conditions and lifelong diasabilities. The letters after his name include ASD (autism spectrum disorder), TM (transverse myelitis), JFLE (Juvenile Frontal Lobe Epilepsy), CTD (connective tissue disorder) and GI (gastro-intestinal) issues. He has hyperacusis, cochlear dehisence and immune-defficiency. He also has a wicked sense of humour, astonishingly beautiful eyes and a heart of gold.

When I listen to the radio some days, I find myself muttering like Dick Dastardly.  As I supervise my son’s education, cook his customised food and clear up his discarded trains, I yell at my beloved radio without realising. I’m reacting to the fact that so much of what we are presented through the media is delivered with little acknowledgement that there is difference in the world – different abilities, different lifestyles, different journeys through life. There’s the odd mention of LGBT issues, occasional disability stories but, for the most part, the underlying broadcast assumption is that you (the consumer) are on the road more traveled.

Mostly, after my outbursts, I say to myself ‘Get over yourself. They have to cater for the majority. They can’t cover everything and everyone.’ But today, the radio was talking about something that was meaningful to us. They were talking about personalised medicine – genetic testing and its consequences.

So I called in, I spoke to Richard Glover‘s producer and I waited my turn. Alas, time ran out, but if I had been able to speak, here’s what I would have said.

“My son is a cracker of a kid. He works harder than anyone I know to take the developmental steps that all his same aged peers take for granted. He sees himself as the epitome of 10 year old boy-ness, which is exactly how he should feel.

Every night, however, he falls asleep not knowing if his deepest sleep will be interrupted by violent seizures. He doesn’t know if he will wake in an ambulance or in his own bed. He is tormented by a dog barking two blocks over, his body wracked by the simplest sounds. He shakes violently when he tries to write, both because of a profound motor skill deficit and the medication he must take to attempt to gain control over the epilepsy. He can’t eat the majority of things a child wants to eat, simply because his bodily functions shut down if he does. He adores his friends and yet struggles to keep them, if they are neurotypical, because most kids live in a world where thinking fast is valued over thinking fairly.

Each of his diagnoses came evenly spaced over his life and each as a surprise. The doctors use the phrase ‘struck by lightening’, each time. As though he, they and we are powerless to predict anything about his health.

Don’t get me wrong, his doctors are brilliant people – neurologists, gastroenterologists, immunologists and one of the best paediatricians on planet Earth. And yet, they are at a loss to circumvent another strike.

Until now.

Now, have begun genetic testing. It’s NOT the be all and end all. It’s not a magic bullet. It’s not even a totally workable solution – yet. But it is the first time in this life that we have a sense that we are in control of the weather.

We know practical things like why our son can’t tolerate certain medications and why his Vitamin D levels are so dangerously low no matter what we do. We can fix those easily now. This helps his everyday health, as well as protecting his future wellbeing.

We are discovering theoretical things like which parts of his brain are genetically likely to be strong and which are not. This stops us from chasing rainbows and sends us on more practical paths of intervention.

And most of all, we are discovering that we have responsibility for his health – both in a personal sense and in a big picture sense. It’s not written in stone, by any stretch of the imagination, but it is a code that can help us better understand where we have come from and where we can go safely.

The results may well be confronting at times. But they are no where near as confronting as discovering him frothing in his bed at 1am. The predictions may be a little terrifying, but no where near as terrifying as not knowing why your perfect baby has grown to gather medical diagnoses like other children gather Lego kits.

We know the world he lives in in increasingly toxic. We know we have made well meaning decisions that were not the best for him. We need to know how to protect him so he has even a fighting chance of survival when we are not around. We need to know how to prevent more children having the same range of supposedly un-aviodable challenges he does.

I know if you are not us, it is tough to understand why we are so desperate for reliable answers and guidance. Kids should be kids, and not be burdened by the negative potentials in their future, right?

That is abundantly and beautifully true, if your kid isn’t already burdened by the mysterious ‘lightening strikes’ of disability and chronic disease. Even more true if solutions to their problems can be found in their own intestinal fortitude and not, as my son’s are, by searching endlessly for a ‘needle in a haystack’.

When you are looking proudly at the back of the head of your grown up offspring as they head off on their gap year or through the front door of their very first share house, it’s probably irrelevant that people like us will never have that opportunity.

I say this not to gain pity. We so don’t need that.

I say it to open peoples’ eyes to the fact that we are not all the same. We don’t all treat difference as something to fear. We don’t all experience normality as the norm.

We did not all get the choice to avoid the road less traveled.

Genetic testing and the emergence of personalised medicine doesn’t just help my kid. It helps us all. Small picture, we hopefully start to understand what the future holds for our boy. Big picture, we all start to understand what we can do for ourselves, our kids, our grandchildrens’ grandchildren. If we are lucky enough to have them.

So, if you eschew the genetic testing, fair enough. That is absolutely your choice.

But as you sip that glass of red while wondering if you are becoming drunk Uncle Bob, or stare at a diabolical sudoku and fear you have met your demented destiny… spare a thought for those of us who truly need the testing and for the world to have an open mind about it.

Spare a thought for my son, who tonight will be dodging lightening in his dreams.

And thanks for taking my call and listening. It means a lot.”

They totally would have let me talk that long on talk back radio too. 😉

Give this to anyone who thinks I am an idiot…

In Action, Medical, Parent issues, Perceptions, Research on September 25, 2013 at 6:28 am

Before I start… two warnings.

Avert your eyes and ears if you think you can’t handle reading about vaccination.

I think we really need to grow some sophistication when it comes to this issue, so I’m going to talk about it. I’m not going to argue, so if you are up for a barney, re-post this in your own networks and enjoy.

Also, this is long. Get a drink.

Almost a week ago, someone I have a lot of time for posted this article on Facebook.

At the time, I responded with a simple message that made it clear, politely, that it did not reflect either our experience or our understanding of the ‘science’ and pretty much left it at that. The discussion went on without me. I find this is the best way to preserve my mental and heart health.

On the same day, Billy and I went to the local pharmacy to pick up his epilepsy medication (a joy for another post).

A woman about my age and clearly under the weather, sat down next to Billy. She was, to put it politely, green around the gills and was waiting for her own medication. Billy was making one of those repetitive clucking noises with his throat that I know a lot of you will be familiar with, and I asked him to stop, suspecting that a woman on the verge of hurling would not respond well to that sound. She thanked me.

Somehow, in response to something someone said about a local chickenpox outbreak, the grateful green gilled woman said, ‘Oh WHY don’t people vaccinate their children!?’

At first I smiled politely. The lapsed Catholic in me didn’t want to walk straight into her bad books. Then I thought, ‘Screw that!’ (with the non-Catholic part of me) and said, ‘We don’t vaccinate anymore, because my son here is vaccine injured.’ I expected her to nod politely (we live in a polite neighbourhood) and ignore what I said, but instead she looked me in the eye and said ‘What does that mean?’.

I’ll interject here and say, I am not making this up to make a point. There is nothing I hate more than fruity autism blogs featuring clearly confected stories designed to make a hero out of the writer and a soft point about the wonders of autism. This woman exists, and she was genuinely blown away by the fact that kids can be damaged by vaccines. Which, in turn, blew me away to a more hopeful place.

I told her Billy’s story – that he didn’t cope well with any of the vaccines in the first year of his life, that his tongue swelled and he became lethargic for days after each one, that he still blitzed the average milestones up to his first birthday, that he developed rubella from the MMR and when he recovered he was silent. Much speech and occupational therapy later, he got some (but nowhere near all) skills back. He was, by then, diagnosed with autism.

Then, at 3.5 after struggling with the varicella and meningicoccal vaccinations, Billy got sick. He was weak, he wasn’t eating, he was vomiting anything he put in his mouth. He was in hospital for two weeks, not improving much, when a nurse noticed he was retaining urine and dragging his left foot when he tried to walk.

In what seemed like the speed of light, Billy was transferred to another, bigger hospital. He was poked and prodded. He gave what seemed like too much blood from his tiny body, he had nerve conduction tests and a spinal tap, he had an MRI at midnight. By now he was paralysed from the waist down, his remaining reflexes were hard to detect, his body was weak.

He was diagnosed with Transverse Myelitis and high dose steroid infusions were started. We were told by the hospital that they suspected a delayed vaccine reaction, he was enrolled in a longitudinal study of vaccine injured children, his neurologist said ‘no more vaccinations for this child.’ We were told 30% of people with TM did not survive, 30% survived with significant disability, and 30% recovered fully.

It took another two weeks of treatment, trial, error and some truly spectacular doctoring (on both ends of the spectrum) for our tiny boy to walk and talk (actually he talked a LOT better, but that’s a steroid related story for another day) and be strong enough to come home. He came through with some residual nerve damage that complicated an already complex toileting journey, but beyond that, he was back.

I didn’t tell the green lady all of that. I gave her the Cliff Notes. She was sick as a dog, and Billy was insisting on seeing how much of his almost 5ft frame he could cram onto a glass shelving unit.

But she listened and when I drew breath she said, ‘Why are you so calm about this?’

I said I’m not really. I’m like an emotional duck – smooth-ish on the surface, but beating myself with birch fronds underneath. But I am determined those in our position should share our stories as rationally as we can, otherwise it’s easy for people to dismiss said stories as perverse, money hating, conspiracy theorist, whale singing, dismissible nonsense.

And, they’re just not.

And even though she hastily thanked me and excused herself, with her hand over her mouth, the lady in the chemist understood that for the first time.

So, why am I forcing my figurative family slide show on random strangers?

I have all sorts of suspicions about the broader context around vaccination, just as I do about the safety of food and medication and public transport and building codes and international and domestic security.

(Did I mention I am Irish? We are quite fond of anticipatory catastrophising… which really means I should never ever have been put in this position in the first place, but I digress.)

Despite my underlying, nagging fears about protecting my child from what seemed like very remote-chance conditions given our lifestyle,  I did exactly as I was told. Mostly because I was terrified something would happen to my precious child.

I’d seen news stories about babies with whooping cough, which (despite its jolly name) doesn’t involve the good kind of whooping. I’d had measles and mumps. My memory of them didn’t involve much hilarity.

I definitely asked my doctor questions. I wanted to know about how safe the vaccines were (very, I was told). I wanted to know what was in them (non-live viruses, I was told). I wanted to know how to protect my baby from trauma (pre-emptive paracetamol, I was told).

So we vaccinated. Repeatedly.

We did everything we were told, and our son didn’t respond well. Instead of being protected from harm, he was walked into harm repeatedly. By us, the adults charged with his loving care.

Thankfully, his doctors (at a major children’s hospital) are open enough to acknowledge what has happened. It’s acknowledged as something they have seen many times… it’s not dismissed (as it is for so many other children). I’d be happier if we lived in a time when their views were openly discussed and shared, but we don’t.

Why?

Well, let’s go back to the stupid news article, and the ‘conversation’ about it. Let’s think about what people do when they read an article called ‘Six Myths about Vaccination’. They don’t research, they don’t question. People react.

There is no subtlety, no analysis, no discourse in articles that come with the word ‘myth’ in the title. And there is no subtlety in the response to them either.

Like most fear based discussions, people retreat to their safe corners, without taking more than a moment to acknowledge the validity of the other corners. Which (I’m guessing) feels awesomely righteous if you have a fully vaccinated child who sailed through the experience and is happily dancing toward adulthood. It must feel disturbing if you are a parent who thoroughly researched and made the decision to not vaccinate.

It feels like being kicked in the guts repeatedly when you are us.

So let’s get real about this.

Here’s what the Australian Government’s Understanding Childhood Immunisation booklet says about vaccination:

“Immunisation is a simple, safe and effective way of protecting children against certain diseases. The risks of these diseases are far greater than the very small risks of immunisation.”

Let’s start with ‘simple’.

You should read this, it’s freely available online. Most people don’t. I didn’t. None of it sounds simple to me, but hey, I’m not a doctor.

In addition to containing the immunising antigen(s), vaccines may also contain the following:

  – Adjuvants, which enhance the immune response to an antigen; an example is aluminium hydroxide.

 – Preservatives, which reduce the risk of contamination; some examples are 2-phenoxyethanol, which is also used in many cosmetics and pharmaceuticals, and thiomersal, which is used in the Q fever vaccine but is not present in any of the vaccines on the National Immunisation Program for young children.

 – Stabilisers, which improve the shelf-life and help to protect the vaccine from adverse conditions; examples are sucrose, mannitol, lactose and gelatin. Stabilisers are also used in most confectionery and many pharmaceuticals.

 – Emulsifiers or surfactants, which alter the surface tension of the liquid vaccine; examples are polysorbate-80 and sorbitol. Emulsifiers are added to most ice creams and many pharmaceuticals.

 – Residuals, which are minute or trace amounts of substances that remain after the manufacture of the vaccine; examples of residuals detectable in some vaccines are formaldehyde, antibiotics such as neomycin or polymyxin, and egg proteins.

Further details of a particular vaccine’s constituents can be found in either the product information (PI) or the consumer medicines information (CMI) for individual vaccines. This information is presented in the shaded box for each vaccine under the disease-specific chapters in Part 4 of this Handbook (current June 2012); however, it is important to note that PIs and CMIs are updated periodically. The most current versions of the PI (and CMI) for vaccines (and other medicines) are available from the TGA website (www.tga.gov.au).

I don’t use preservatives, emulsifiers, surfactants, residuals or adjuvants in the rest of my life. I have no idea why we think it’s OK to inject them into our bodies, but hey… the scientists know it’s safe right?

Hmmm… ‘safe’. Let’s look at safe.

Read this to see how vaccines are safety tested: TGA Vaccine Regulation Overview

(TL/DR: tested by the manufacturer, not an independent body or a government body, but by the manufacturer who stands to make untold millions from the acceptance of one vaccine into the national schedule. Not duplicated or validated, not even reviewed, simply viewed by an Advisory Committee and ratified. Not tested in combination with the other vaccines already in the schedule. Privately tested and risk assessed in the hen house, by the fox.)

The best possible outcome is that epidemiologically (statistically across the population) a vaccine can be shown to cause a minimal percentage of AEFIs – adverse events following immunisation.

Then, once they are added to the schedule, there’s the question of individual safety – actual AEFIs to consider.

The information no-one wants to acknowledge, is that adverse reactions to vaccinations happen. They, as the epidemiological (AKA ‘safety) data states, are uncommon. They are not, by any stretch of the imagination, statistically rare. Especially when you consider how few are reported and that even fewer are acknowledged.

Billy is someone who experienced a series of adverse reactions to vaccinations. Despite this, we were encouraged to continue. We did. He is now permanently disabled.

Would he always have been disabled? As his parents who have lived in such close proximity to him and his development, we do not believe so. We do not think there is anything close to evidence to prove he was ‘born disabled’ (and we have a LOT of video to back up our lived experience). Would he be ‘less’ disabled had we made different choices? Potentially.

Hilariously (and I mean that in the non-hilarious sense) many people feel a perfect right to insist we are wrong (and oddly NONE of them are doctors). The doctors, at least the experienced ones who have lived and worked for a long time in the company of children like Billy, absolutely agree with us. In fact, they were the ones who suggested it to us.

The most recent available Australian data on reported vaccine reactions is sobering.

Here are some facts:

“The overall AEFI reporting rate for 2011 was 10.4 per 100,000 population, compared with 17.4 in 2010. The AEFI reporting rate was the third highest for the period 2000 to 2011, after peaks in 2010 (17.4).”

It happens. It happened to us.

I’m not even close to saying all vaccination should cease, but that is only because I do not understand enough to say anything like that with any confidence. It’s clear to me it was not safe for us, and for a long time our doctors insisted it was, despite clear signs to the contrary.

I think we should find out who vaccination is safe for and who it isn’t safe for. Then, when people make a choice, they are making the right one for them – not for the economy, not for the statistics, not for their access to government benefits, but for their individual child’s health.

There’s no arguing that people dying unnecessarily of serious disease is something we want to prevent. Vaccinating abundantly against childhood diseases that rarely have serious side effects and against conditions that we may have very little chance of being exposed to… seems like economically driven overkill to me.

Let’s look at measles and hepatitis B.

The government’s own figures on the risks of serious complications from measles make it very clear that the risks of serious complications are low in unimmunized people. They are lower in immunized people. So, you can still get measles if you are immunized, according to the government. If you get measles naturally and fight it, you are immune for life.

So, now we are onto the issue of vaccination being ‘effective’. It obviously is, in the short term, for some people, but clearly, immunity is not guaranteed. If it was, vaccinated people would not get measles, and boosters would not be necessary.

There are numerous documented cases of disease outbreaks among vaccinated populations, highlighting the short term effects of vaccine mediated immunity –
Mumps
Measles
Chickenpox

Along with numerous simple analyses of the validity of herd immunity and the relationship between vaccine mediated immunity and passively acquired (maternal antibodies) immunity.

People are questioning, because there are valid questions to be asked. Big questions and little questions, broad societal ones and specific individual ones.

Hep B, is an easy vaccine to question.

The government’s own information on Hepatitis B explains how it is transmitted:

– perinatal transmission from infected mother to neonate (vertical transmission), usually occurring at or around the time of birth
 – parenteral or mucosal exposure to infected blood and other bodily fluids; common scenarios include:
* sharing of contaminated equipment that penetrates the skin, such as needles (among persons who inject drugs), tattoo equipment, body-piercing equipment, acupuncture equipment and razor blades
* needle-stick injury, for example, in a healthcare setting
* contact between infective body fluids and mucous membranes
* sexual contact (including vaginal or anal intercourse, although the latter is associated with a higher risk)
* non-sexual contact with an infected person (horizontal transmission), including household transmission, for example, child-to-child transmission through contact between open sores or wounds.

So… if I, as a mother was not infected (easy to ascertain) and had no plans to expose my child to anyone who was infected (again, easy to do), or to anyone who engages in any activity that might involve needles, razor blades or sexual activity with infected people (haven’t let him exchange bodily fluids with anyone like that yet) then he, as a newborn baby was vaccinated against hepatitis B because…

(INSERT YOUR ANSWER HERE BECAUSE CLEARLY THERE’S A GIANT GAP IN MY COGNITION THAT NEEDS FILLING)

So, vaccination not safe for everyone. It’s not effective for everyone. It is not simple for everyone. And there are some bizarre aspects to it that make no sense at all.

The issue here is very clear.

Whether you vaccinate or not is your business. However, it is a decision that requires thought and analysis. The decision cannot be made by your doctor because they are not you. The decision has to include your medical history and your family’s medical history.

It is a risk.

For some of us, the immediate risk level may be very low and for some that risk is very, very high. We do not know, with anything even resembling surety who is who (though I, personally would suggest anyone with a family history of auto-immune or metabolic issues or previous vaccine reactions could be given their own personal red flag right now).

If you have vaccinated and your child is OK, you are fortunate. Maybe a little, maybe a lot… but you are fortunate.

Maybe, rather than assuming people who choose not to vaccinate are idiots (acting on opinion, believing things that are not true, socially irresponsible), consider their position. It’s different to yours, but so is their DNA, and that is a crucial difference for many many reasons.

If vaccines work, then you are safe from infection. Then again, if vaccines worked, my son would not be disabled.

See what I did there?

It’s not simple. It’s not about facts or myths or right or wrong. It’s not black or white.

Life is full of grey, and this issue is among the greyest.

Now, go and play with your healthy kid. I’m here to answer any questions you have about our story (as long as you don’t threaten to vomit on me like the lady in the chemist).

PS. I truly hate that now that I have posted this, I am ducking for cover, awaiting the trolls and the nonsense that comes from posing questions about vaccine safety. May I remind everyone that I’m not even remotely interested in arguing. Accept the truth of my story. Take it elsewhere and use it for fodder if you wish.

But, please respect our position. We did not ask to be here, but now that we are, we think it irresponsible to remain silent, for all sorts of reasons.

We really need to get better at this.

What if?

In Diet, Medical, Perceptions on August 22, 2013 at 3:18 am

The platitudes and polarities in autism world make living here a notch more challenging than it needs to be.

I have enough perspective to accept that other people can and will do whatever they please with their version of autism. I’m certain it won’t be what I would do, but I’m also certain that they, as I, have a bunch to learn from the experiences and choices of others.

Hence the torture I put myself through on a daily basis – reading about autism on the internet.

I hit a wall this morning when the comedian called ‘God‘ on Facebook posted a syrupy sweet (disappointingly unfunny) hooray for autism post. You may have to ‘like’ God to view. Generally, I find him pretty funny. Today, I did not.

Today, I felt stabby.

My son is a lovely boy, no doubt. He’s gorgeous and loving and great at some stuff. Do I believe autism made him any of these things? No. No I do not. No more than epilepsy does, at least.

Do I think autism is a repository for ‘awesome talents’? No. Nor is auto-immune disease.

Do I think we are doing anyone any favours by perpetuating this ‘love your captor’ nonsense? Well, only if we are confident that the world will somehow find billions of dollars to support millions of people like my son, from birth through adulthood.

This week, autism has delivered my son and his peers the following (feel free to sing along, Twelve Days of Christmas style):
– a literal shit storm,
– a paper war designed to save a 10 year old from suicide,
– a psych lockdown for a 7 year old,
– a Webster pack of medication for a 15 year old that would put a cancer patient to shame and
– a grown up wheelchair for a 9 year old who no longer fits his therapeutic stroller.

The combination of these events, and God’s blue flaming made me think… there must be some better ways to think about autism.

Here’s a few random what ifs (I’m sure we could all add a pile if we had an Edward de Bono style strategic planning love-in).

 – What if the socially-awkward-genius autism and the can’t-control-your-adult-bowel autism are completely different things?
How would making that definition change the way we approach the diagnosis and treatment of one or the other? How would it serve the medical integrity of the condition? How much could we learn about the whole spectrum if one end wasn’t constantly white-anting the other?

 – What if we could get over the knee jerking and finger pointing around vaccination and actually had a good scientific (not epidemiological)  look at whether it is involved in autism.
No, it hasn’t happened/been proven/been disproven. No, they are not tested in combination. And No, a comparison of vaccinated Vs unvaccinated autism rates has never been done. What if we did those things? What might we learn? What might change if we knew more about the subtleties of the choices we are expected to make?

 – What if we asked GPs and paediatricians to consider actively educating themselves on the basis and treatment of the medical challenges autism brings?
Would it change the advice they gave parents? Would it change the nature of Early ‘Intervention’? Would it change the health outcomes of people with autism, who are among the most highly medicated and chronically ill in our communities?

– What if we all held hands and sang ‘Kumbaya‘?
Or another lovely but non denominational song, just in case someone is offended by that choice.

It couldn’t hurt, right.

Well, maybe listening to a worldwide chorus of Peter, Paul and Mary could be a little painful.

Let me think some more on that last one.

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.

Be afraid… be very afraid…

In Action, Medical, Parent issues, Perceptions on July 29, 2013 at 4:46 am

In May this year, I wrote a letter to Disability Reform Minister Jenny Macklin.

My letter was in response to her assertion in this article that following Early Intervention 50% of children with autism will be ‘educationally normal’ (whatever that means).

Today, I got a response.

I’ll insert it here as a series of pictures, because I don’t have the tech skill to do anything else.

All I will say is if you have a newly diagnosed child in Australia, be very very afraid.

The people in charge are not even remotely up to speed on what autism actually means.

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One response… (though there could be so many).

Does anyone know anyone with a child diagnosed with autism whose needs disappeared after EI? Because it seems like the government is relying on there being quite a few of these stories, and I don’t know one.

And (I lied about the one response thing)…

With all your careful tiptoeing around first person language and care to assure me you are empowering people, Kate Costello, could I suggest you do not refer to the early medical care of my child as an ‘investment’. It kind of gives away the idea that you aren’t really valuing him as an individual. At all.

Off to buy a lottery ticket.

The Epidemic Is Wearing No Clothes…

In Action, Perceptions on July 6, 2013 at 10:05 am

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

When my child was paralysed from the waist down with an auto-immune disease, people told me it was a gift. When he needed adult doses of laxatives to maintain bowel function at 6-years-old, they said ‘that’s going to set him up for his University years.’ When he shook uncontrollably and foamed at the mouth while he slept, people said ‘it’s just quirks.’

Actually, they didn’t. No-one would.

Maybe they wouldn’t because I would have punched them in the mouth (and I am not a naturally violent person). Maybe they wouldn’t because it would have made no sense.

And yet, the condition that umbrellas all those events, autism, is considered lightweight; nothing to worry about; nothing but a natural evolution of human brain engineering.

Just like the naked King in the kid’s story, a respectable and placatory fiction is paraded in the faces of autism parents  – autism is not an epidemic.

Although anywhere between one and three per cent of the world’s child population now carry an autism diagnosis we are told autism is not a problem;

Although this rapidly increasing cohort of children have a massive range of compromise in communication, learning abilities, social functioning and life skills, we are told autism is not a cause for alarm;

Although children live with debilitating, gastrointestinal conditions, auto-immune illness, seizures and food/drug intolerances, we are told autism is just a harmless quirk;

Although children die after wandering from the safety of home or school;

Although children die at the hands of desperate, derailed or ill-equipped carers;

Although children die at an increasing rate;

Autism is not an epidemic.

It’s almost as ridiculous as my pretend illness conversations, except it is actually happening.

As many of us have said many times before, if autism was diabetes, we’d be launching international preventative campaigns. If autism was cancer, we’d be making heart wrenching music-laden slo-mo news features about protecting vulnerable babies. We would want to know why it’s happening and how we can stop it.

Measure it by CDC acknowledged diagnosis (1975: 1 in 5000 2013: 1 in 50)

Measure it by deaths (four autistic children drowned in the last two months in the USA alone)

Measure it by economic impact ($3.2m is what’s needed to fund an autistic person’s lifetime care according to the Autism Society of America, with a predicted 500 per cent increase by 2030)

Autism is on the increase, and its impact is widening exponentially.

We are undeniably in the grip of an epidemic.

Of course, it makes much more sense to push such thoughts to the back of your head. A lot of us don’t take kindly to having our lives described as a catastrophe. It’s confronting to think we might have made poor decisions. It’s really scary to think we might have been ill-advised by professionals we are bred to trust.

Let’s think about it this way.

Many of our children are not coping with childhood. We’re happy to bleat on about the inadequacies of the systems that provide them with therapy, health and education. We force them through those systems because we are told that’s what we should do, and we are somehow assured the strategies employed will work.

They are not working in any way, shape or form.

Kids are struggling with basic life, learning and health. More children are diagnosed every year. The ranks are growing every year.

I’d like every reader to nominate 10 kids who have, through educational strategies, lost their autism diagnosis, attend school without support and live life with zero supports, accommodations or quirks.

What’s that? You can’t? No, neither can I. The only people who can are service providers and politicians. Funny that.

Here’s some of the anti-‘Houston, we have a problem’ spin they spin for us:

–   it’s insulting to use ‘disease language’ when autistic people are happy just the way they are.

To which I say, this simplistic nonsense allows every doctor my seriously ill child sees to say “It’s just autism, Mum.” So, it’s insulting to him (also autistic) to deny him the medical care  he requires. Are his rights any less than the rights of an adult self-advocate? Of course not. As sibling advocate Natalie Palumbo said in her 1 in 88 video “If you can argue against a cure, you don’t need one.”

Also, I’m not in the habit of looking down on sick people. I don’t know anyone who is.

–   it’s all better diagnosis, these kids have been around forever and they’ve been ignored, pushed through the system anyway or institutionalised.

To which I say, really? Where are all the autistic adults, to match the autistic children they must have been? Where are the teachers who ‘pushed’ these kids through despite challenges that confound contemporary, well-trained and skilled teachers. Where the hell are the gifted doctors who are suddenly able to display sensitivity and insight that very, very few of us see and all of us need right now.

Also, name me 10 autistic kids you knew when you were 10. OK, I’ll make it easier, name me 10 autistic kids you know now.

–   it’s all about changing diagnostic criteria.

To which I say, okay, so the steep rise should have happened in 1994 and in the years immediately following, and then levelled off, but it didn’t.

Also, the issue of changing diagnostic criteria will hit us soon, with the DSM-5 cutting out all the Aspies under three. Still with the same massive additional needs, but no diagnosis, so poof, the epidemic is gone. If the changing criteria logic works, then what was the aim in expanding the criteria in 1994? Creating work for therapists?

–   it’s genetic.

Purely genetic conditions do not accelerate from 1 in 5000 to 1 in 50 in one generation. Medical conditions do.

Actually, this spin is insulting my intelligence, and it should be insulting yours.

Most of you are parents who saw your child or a child you love struggling so you sought help. Are we honestly saying that parents in the past simply ignored their kids’ struggles and went on drinking highballs?

They didn’t ignore it because we all know, it’s impossible to ignore.

If you need a framework that’s less histrionic than mine, Google ‘Nature Magazine’ and ‘Karen Weintraub’ and ‘November 2011.’

If you need to get over the semantics, Google the definitions of the word ‘disease’ and the word ‘epidemic.’

We are surfing a wave of epidemic, and the only reason we think we aren’t is because we don’t want to be.

Denying the autism epidemic is giving approval to governments, doctors, educators and service providers to NOT respect your child’s needs.

It is saying it is completely okay for more children, maybe more children in your own family, to have autism.

It is saying you are happy to foot the bill – the $3.2 million per 1 in at least 50 of the world’s population, for their lifetime of care and support.

If you are happy for these things to occur, then perhaps you should join the parade. I believe there’s a fine ermine cloak on display.

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.

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.