A Word from the President, “From L’Image”, Spring 2008
The Medical Understanding Of Autism Spectrum Disorders In 2008
In order to better understand the place where we now find ourselves, it is important to look back upon from where we began. You will surely see that autism was set on the wrong track and it will not be easy to correct it.
Autism/ASD: a symptom, not a diagnosis
The word autism appeared in 1949. This word describes the weird, unexplained behaviour seen in some children. In the dictionary, « autism » has the following definition: ‘pathological withdrawing into own world, loss of contact with reality’. It is very vague and makes reference to the subjective observation of a behaviour. This “withdrawal” behavior is not a disease; it is a symptom, a sign, a clue that someone is not right. The same symptom can present in many conditions. The important part is to find which condition it is associated with in order to pinpoint the diagnosis and come up with an appropriate course of treatment.
For example, what does a doctor do when he examines a patient that is unconscious? Does he stop solely after noting this symptom and then diagnose a coma? Of course not. He will work hard and order exams to figure out why this person is unconscious. He will try to notice other symptoms and figure out if it is linked with diabetes, a skull fracture, a heart attack, intoxication, a seizure, etc. The loss of consciousness is a symptom, not the disease.
This process should also be the norm for our children: looking for causes, understanding them, treating them. Traditional medicine has always been ill at ease with behavioural problems, since they are hard to explain with blood work or x-rays. Transfer protocols to psychiatry wards were rapidly established for every person whose behaviour did not conform to the norm, without even trying to understand why they behave that way.
Psychiatry has neither been at ease with these clienteles. In agreement with governments, huge psychiatric hospitals were built and internment was seen as the solution to these problems. Not that long ago, people with epilepsy and stomach ulcers were interned because they were deemed responsible for their ailments. Furthermore, authorities rapidly abandoned psychiatry and its odd patients. We all know the stories of abuse and suffering that went on inside the walls of these institutions. This is also part of the history of autism.
The publication of the DSM-IV, the diagnostic manual of mental disorders, marked an evolution in our history. Originally, this manual was a tool to help narrow down diagnoses, and it became the reference in mental disorders. In the DSM-IV, behaviours were classified by categories, and the categories soon became the diagnoses. No mention of possible causes or suggestions of physical exams. The manual’s main focus is on the observation of behaviour. Unfortunately, reality tells us that observation is a subjective activity which can be affected by many factors: training, university philosophy, location, time of day, child’s health, etc. This manual is the reason why the autism diagnosis became autism spectrum disorder, the large category under which it falls.
The whole diagnostic process for children with developmental disorders is unjust and discriminatory. An aura of mystery is kept around these problems, and our children are sent on ill-suited, narrow paths, with no possibility of return. There is nothing scientific in what I have just described.
On the other side, parents noticed several physical symptoms they suspected had a link with their child’s autism. These include gastro-intestinal symptoms: reflux, constipation, diarrhea, being selective for food consumption. Other parents would talk about viral infections, chronic ear infections, and reactions to antibiotics. For a majority of these parents, the problems started with vaccines. Unfortunately, all these observations and symptoms are dismissed by the medical establishment. The focus remains on the classification of behaviours, and as soon as they get a diagnosis of autism, it feels like our children are not even entitled to the same treatments others receive!
If, as a parent, you are interested in the possible causes of autism, the answers are vague and stereotypical:
- From 1949 to the 1980’s: frigid mothers or the lack of oxygen at birth
- From the 1980’s to the present: neurological hypotheses
- From 1990 to the present: genetics also come into play.
The Autism Research Institute And DAN ! (Defeat Autism Now!)
In 1994, the Autism Research Institute (ARI), founded by Dr Bernard Rimland, convened doctors, researchers, professionals and parents who wanted to work together to establish a medical assessment protocol for children with autism. To counter all the baseless theories and hypotheses, Dr Rimland and the ARI’s first mission became the promotion of scientific research. Since its inception, the ARI has been interested in everything that could improve the wellbeing of people with autism: education, neurosensory therapies, vitamin therapies, etc. The ARI has created links with universities and has lobbied to see the research get closer to the reality of people living with autism. Up until 1994, the ARI also focused on genetic research.
However, the rapid increase of the number of autism cases in the 90’s raised some questions. Autism and ASD suddenly looked like an epidemic, and something had to be done to understand what was happening to our children.
As a result of the 1994 meeting of reflection about the establishment of the first medical assessment protocol, DAN! (Defeat Autism Now!) was born.
DAN! is made up of doctors and researchers who have decided to see autism as a medical problem, look for causes, and experiment treatments in the hope of curing the children.
You can guess the reactions that followed. They were seen as snake-oil merchants, and profiteers, closely monitored as rogue elements of their medical boards, always at risk of losing their right to practice. These doctors took up the challenge and wanted to understand this disease.
ATEDM has attended the DAN! conferences since the beginning. Since we also had a rapid increase of the number of cases here in Quebec, we started to promote the cause of autism and its medical aspects, the search for causes and treatments. This sensitization was made with parents, the government, the medical and education authorities, the media, and the general population. We started organizing our own medical conferences. After a first reaction of curiosity, we were also faced with resistance and skepticism. It is reassuring and easier to remain in the dark. To say that people with autism have neurological issues is not a great feat in itself. It is as evident as stating that the nose is located in the middle of the face. The challenge is to understand why, and to look for a treatment and cure.
The results seen at DAN! are very interesting. They teach us that autism is an auto-immune disorder caused by heavy metal intoxication, since people with autism are unable to excrete them from their body. Each child is unique and so is his treatment. Here is a summary of the results obtained by researchers and doctors.
Each child develops and is born with the genetic material inherited from his parents. He can be born with specific family predispositions. We have noticed that the family of children with autism had a predisposition for immune dysfunctions such as allergies, asthma, eczema, Crohn’s disease, MS, lupus, etc. This immune dysfunction could be inherited from the parents, developed before or after birth because of environmental factors, or a combination of all three possibilities.
The end of World War II saw a revolution in our way of life, with the rise of industrialisation, and the strong economic growth. Government regulations to monitor industries and protect the population quickly became obsolete. At the same time, pharmaceutical companies develop more and more medications that save people’s lives but influence how doctors do their jobs: each symptom has a medication. Over time, the cause of a symptom has become estranged. Look at what’s happening with cancer. All focus has been put into treatment and saving lives, and little attention is given to finding the causes, its increase to epidemic proportions and neither to the prevention of this plague. All this simply because it is not in the pharmaceutical companies’ interest to keep us healthy. Furthermore, massive vaccination campaigns started to rise in the 1940’s as well.
The list of environmental aggressors is very long, so I will only name a few to illustrate my point:
- The industrialisation of raising animals means they no longer eat what they should. Animal feed is laced with antibiotics and hormones amongst other things. The animals often do not see the light of day and wait for the slaughterhouse in crammed conditions. Quantity instead of quality.
- The industrialisation of milk production. Humans do not have the necessary enzymes to break down cow’s milk, because it is solely intended for consumption by a calf. The Second World War pushed women into the workforce, forcing them to abandon breastfeeding and replace it with cow’s milk. After the war, the women did not go back to breastfeeding, and milk production became an important industry in this country. Many studies have shown the ill effects of milk, but no one wants to jeopardise an industry so important to the country’s economy.
- Pesticides that we breathe and eat.
- Preservatives and food colouring.
- Toxic spills in rivers.
- Mercury dental filling.
- The introduction of many chemical products with no prior safety testing.
Finally, what we eat, drink and breathe attack our bodies. These aggressors harm the environment, and its natural balance. I am part of the first generation that went through these aggressions, and my children are part of the second. There is an obvious link with the rise of the number of cases of autism and auto-immune disorders.
The effects of these assaults
These assaults cause genetic mutations. The body is a very complex machine and everything is interrelated. If one system breaks down, there are consequences on many other systems.
Jill James (Nebraska) discovered a problem in the biochemical workings of people with autism. The problem lies in the detoxification chain. For example, if the human body’ biochemical set-up was seen as a geographical map, we would see boulevards, streets, alleys, etc. However, one street is missing in our children, the one specifically for detoxifying.
Where do we find them? Everywhere.
- Paint, soil, cleaning products, soaps, creams, pills (aluminum), dental fillings, vaccines (thimerosal), water (chlorine and antibacterial products)
When the body is incapable of excreting heavy metals, they settle in, and they particularly like soft tissue such as the brain and the intestines.
Mercury attacks the intestines, and provokes and inflammatory response, disorganizing the flora, thus causing a slew of gastrointestinal problems: acid reflux, constipation, diarrhea, bloating, cramps. Digestion thus becomes disrupted. Children can also develop allergies or food intolerances. The foods the body can not tolerate become aggressors to the immune system. These intolerances are hard to detect since they do not trigger the same kind of physical reaction allergies do.
In people with autism, the best known intolerances are dairy and gluten (wheat). When they are broken down during digestion, there is a malfunction in the process, and this malfunction triggers an interaction with endorphins (the body’s natural opium). The effects of this interaction (endorphins-milk-gluten) are important. In fact, they cause the same effect as with drug abuse: agitation, withdrawal, or insensitivity to pain (Dr Reichelt).
Furthermore, inflammation of the intestines and heavy metals create an imbalance the intestinal flora, leading to a proliferation of Candida albicans (which is yeast) and parasites. These microorganisms settle in the bowel and affect our children. They become aggressors as well inhibit the good absorption of vitamins and other essential nutrients for the body’s other organs. We can not see them, but they can do a lot of damage.
Of course, this is a condensed summary to help you understand the basics and the magnitude of the situation. For those of you who would be interested in learning more about the scientific research conducted at DAN!, you can check out their website (www.defeatautismnow.com) and the Autism Research Institute’s (www.autism.com), or come to ATEDM to browse available documents.
To be continued in the Fall 2008 Image Newsletter…