The Natural Medicine Guide to Autismby Stephanie Marohn
Autism is now epidemic in the U.S. The incidence rate averages 1 in 500, but can be as high as 1 in 150 in some areas. In the last 15 years, autism has risen by as much as 1000%. Satisfactory explanations for the meteoric rise in autism have been lacking, and conventional medicine has failed to come forward with successful treatments to reverse this condition. Now… See more details below
Autism is now epidemic in the U.S. The incidence rate averages 1 in 500, but can be as high as 1 in 150 in some areas. In the last 15 years, autism has risen by as much as 1000%. Satisfactory explanations for the meteoric rise in autism have been lacking, and conventional medicine has failed to come forward with successful treatments to reverse this condition. Now for the first time, The Natural Medicine Guide to Autism gives the reasons for the epidemic and details therapies that in many cases can successfully treat or reverse this disorder. Certain environmental factors can trigger autism, such as vaccine overload, exposure to heavy metals such as mercury, toxic overload, nutritional deficiencies, and structural distortions from birth trauma. Unlike the grim prognosis conventional medicine gives autism, evidence presented in this book convincingly shows that when you identify and remove these triggers using natural medicine therapies, many of the symptoms of autism often disappear and a normal life is suddenly possible for the child.
Meet the Author
Stephanie Marohn is a medical journalist and non-fiction writer and the author of What the Animals Taught Me, as well as The Natural Medicine Guide to Bipolar Disorder. She runs an animal sanctuary in Sonoma County, CA. Visit her at www.stephaniemarohn.com.
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THE Natural Medicine Guide
By Stephanie Marohn
Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc.Copyright © 2012 Stephanie Marohn
All rights reserved.
What Is Autism?
You know, Mommy, the world is full of sounds. When I listen to them, I realize that the sounds make patterns, and the patterns all turn into music in my head. Sometimes when you call me, I don't hear you because I'm listening to the music.
—Miles, five years old, recovered from the autism diagnosed at nineteen months
After long being regarded as a mental illness or emotional maladjustment, autism is now recognized as a biological disorder, meaning that it is due to organic rather than psychological causes. More specifically, autism is a neurological or brain-based developmental disorder that particularly manifests in problems in cognition, communication, and interaction. The onset typically occurs before three years of age.
Despite the consensus of biological causality, the American Psychiatric Association's criteria remain the standard for an autism diagnosis, and autism is still classified as a mental disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-Fourth Edition (DSM-IV), the diagnostic bible for psychiatric disorders. As the criteria paint a portrait of the disorder, I include a summary here.
For a diagnosis of autism, according to the DSM-IV criteria, a person must have at least six items from the three areas delineated below, with at least two from the first area and one each from the other two.
1. Impairment in social interaction
* impairment in nonverbal behaviors related to social interaction, such as eye contact and facial expression
* failure to develop peer relationships
* lack of spontaneous sharing of enjoyment or interests, as evidenced by showing or pointing out objects
* lack of social or emotional reciprocity
2. Impairment in communication
* delayed or nonexistent language development
* impairment in conversation abilities if language is present
* stereotypic, repetitive language or idiosyncratic language
* lack of make-believe or social imitative play
3. Repetitive and stereotyped behavior, interests, and activities
* abnormally intense preoccupation with one or more interests
* seemingly inflexible adherence to routines or rituals
* stereotyped and repetitive mannerisms, such as hand or finger flapping or twisting, or whole-body movements
* preoccupation with object parts
While the DSM-IV description is a good starting place for understanding what autism looks like, there are many symptoms and conditions associated with the disorder that are not reflected in these criteria. This is especially true when autism is considered from a biological rather than a behavioral perspective, which involves looking beyond the outward signs to what is happening on the inside.
For example, many children with autism suffer from allergies, nutritional deficiencies, and/or intestinal overgrowth of the yeast-like fungus Candida. Many also have weakened immunity or autoimmune problems. See pages 6-7 for an expanded list of the symptoms, behaviors, and conditions that have been found to be associated with autism.
* For more about the symptoms of autism and their correlation with other factors involved in the disorder, see page 100 and pages 117-118.
An aspect of autism that has fascinated many is what is known as "islets of ability." Autism pioneer Leo Kanner (see "The History of Autism," which follows) coined the term to refer to the advanced skill areas of autistic children. The most well documented "islets" are in drawing, music, calendar calculation, and rote memory. Unusual drawing ability, perfect pitch, the ability to play an instrument that one has never been taught, and the ability to play a complex piece after hearing it only once are all examples of islets of ability.
Another positive aspect of autism may arise from behavior that often drives family members to distraction. Temple Grandin, who was autistic from an early age and provides rare insight into the experience of autism in her book Emergence: Labeled Autistic, points out a potential benefit of the intense preoccupation with certain objects that is characteristic of autism. "High functioning autistic adults, who are able to live independently and keep a job, often have work that is in the same field of interest as their childhood fixations." In her case, an early obsession with livestock equipment turned into a creative adult profession as a designer of such equipment.
Grandin also illuminates the function of the puzzling, repetitive, almost ritualistic behaviors in which many autistic children engage. "I, as an autistic person, reacted in a fixated behavior pattern in order to reduce arousal to my overly stimulated nervous system.... By concentrating on the fixation, [autistic-type children] block out other stimulation which they cannot handle." Of her sensitivity to sound, Grandin says, "Sometimes I heard and understood, and other times sounds or speech reached my brain like the unbearable noise of an onrushing freight train."
Donna Williams provides another glimpse into the inaccessible world of autism. Like Temple Grandin, she was autistic from early childhood and went on to write a book about the experience, entitled Nobody Nowhere: The Extraordinary Autobiography of an Autistic. She, too, offers an explanation for the fixed behavior patterns and repetitive actions: "The constant change of most things never seemed to give me any chance to prepare myself for them. Because of this I found pleasure and comfort in doing the same things over and over again."
Jerry, who was five years old when Leo Kanner diagnosed his autism, painted a painful picture of what it was like for him as a child. At the age of thirty-one, he told psychiatrist J. R. Bemporad about his experience of autism, which Dr. Bemporad reported as follows:
According to Jerry, his childhood experience could be summarized as consisting of two predominant experiential states: confusion and terror. The recurrent theme that ran through all of Jerry's recollections was that of living in a frightening world presenting painful stimuli that could not be mastered. Noises were unbearably loud, smells overpowering. Nothing seemed constant; everything was unpredictable and strange.
Who Gets Autism?
Estimates of how many people in the United States have autism vary widely. The number of children affected is increasing at such a rapid rate, however, that many professionals now acknowledge that we are in the midst of an epidemic of autism. In 1999, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) placed the prevalence at one in 500 in the general population, and one in 150 in some places in the country (notably Brick Township, New Jersey, home to a toxic landfill). Only five years later, the CDC cited the rate of autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) as one in 166. In 2007, that number was one in 150. Now it is one in eighty-eight children in fourteen areas monitored across the country. Research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) estimates the prevalence of ASD at six per 1,000 children, which translates as approximately 425,000 children below the age of eighteen, with 114,000 of those being below the age of five.
While the exact numbers may differ, no one argues that there has been an enormous increase in the incidence of autism. The CDC notes that the ten communities monitored in its 2002 and 2006 study years showed an increase in ASD ranging from 27 percent to 95 percent, with an average increase of 57 percent. Other locations cite a rise of as much as 1,000 percent in the last twenty years. One of the places where the 1,000-percent increase has been documented is California. That percentage may register as higher than in other geographic locations simply because the state keeps excellent records. California has what may be the world's best database on autism and other developmental disorders.
The cause for the rise in autism is the subject of great debate and controversy. Some say it is an issue of awareness, but many long-time teachers, who have seen the sharp increase of autistic behaviors in their classrooms, independent of diagnosis, would contest this view.
Many people—both autism experts and parents of autistic children—blame the increase on the rise in the number and nature of vaccines given to children. This topic is explored at length in chapter 3. Suffice it to say here that the number of vaccines that children receive in the first two years of life, based on the U.S. Government's recommended immunization schedule followed by pediatricians, has gone up from eight in 1980 to twenty-two in the year 2001 to twenty-seven in the year 2011. In addition, the rise in autism has occurred in all countries that follow the World Health Organization's vaccination guidelines.
Other autism statistics of interest are:
* Four out of five people with autism are male.
* One in ten of those with autism show unusual abilities in art, music, calculation, or memory.
* The risk of developing autism is twenty-five times greater for those with an autistic sibling than for those without an autistic sibling.
* The risk of developing autism is 375 times greater for those who have an identical twin with autism.
* One doctor's clinical analysis revealed that in 60 percent of his autistic patients, their birth involved the use of the Pitocin (a drug to speed the contractions during labor); only 20 percent of all births involve Pitocin.
Types of Autism
In addition to the diagnosis of autism, other diagnostic labels are currently applied to children with autistic symptoms and characteristics. There are many labels used; following are a few of the more common. A holistic approach does not use such diagnoses to determine the appropriate treatment course, focusing instead on the particular manifestations and underlying imbalances in the individual patient. Further, the diagnoses are not distinct and, in many cases, one could be used as well as another. Many autistic children receive these labels, however, so it's helpful to know to what they refer.
Pervasive developmental disorder (PDD): This is a general term for autism and other developmental disorders that involve severe impairment in the three areas cited as diagnostic criteria for autism; that is, impairment in social interaction, communication impairment, and repetitive or stereotyped behaviors, interests, or activities.
Autistic spectrum disorder (ASD): This term encompasses the varieties of autism and reflects the relatively new view of the disorder; that is, that it manifests in varying degrees of severity along a continuum from mild to severe and in varying forms depending on which neurological functions are most affected.
Asperger's syndrome: In what is considered a milder form of autism than classic autism, language development is not as affected and the child may even be precociously verbal.
Atypical autism: This refers to a departure from the manifestations of classic autism in the three areas of impairment: impairment in social interaction, impairment in communication, and repetitive and stereotyped behavior, interests, and activities. Children with atypical autism exhibit effects in only two of the three areas.
Names are also used to distinguish the nature of onset. A diagnosis of classic autism, known as Kanner's autism, early infantile autism, childhood autism, or autistic disorder, generally involves the onset of abnormalities within the first two years of the child's life. Some practitioners make the distinction between classic autism and what they term regressive autism, meaning there was a period of normal development before the onset of abnormalities.
Many parents report that their child did not exhibit symptoms of autism until around fifteen to eighteen months. Most children are not diagnosed until they are at least three, however, because developmental delays are more obvious by that time. Diagnosis of autism is confusing, and made more confusing by the fact that the spectrum or continuum type of labels are in the process of being defined.
The following are common myths about autism. The fact that myths related to the obsolete view of autism as a mental illness persist reveals how well disseminated that view was. Only equally good dissemination of the biological reality of autism will at last dispel that stigmatizing notion. The persistence of all of these myths indicates the need for education of the general public about this disorder.
Myth: Bad parenting causes autism.
This formerly widely held view has been thoroughly debunked in the scientific community. It is now known that autism is a neurological and developmental disorder, not one caused by psychological factors. "Poor mother/child bonding, if it is to be associated with Autism at all, must be seen as effect rather than a cause of Autism," states Uta Frith, author of Autism: Explaining the Enigma.
Myth: Children with autism choose to live in their own world.
Choice has nothing to do with it. Neurological dysfunction is the source of autistic children's manner of interacting with the world. Autistic behaviors arise from the different "wiring" inherent to the disorder. Hypersensitivity to sound, light, touch, and environmental factors as a result of neurological problems are additional features that often make such interaction stressful and even painful.
Myth: Children with autism avoid eye contact.
This is not necessarily the case. Many do make eye contact, although it may be done in a different manner than children who are not autistic. Uta Frith explains that they are not avoiding the gaze, as is typically believed, but rather lack understanding of and the ability to use the "language of the eyes," a vital component of social communication. "The child neither looks away at the right time, nor meets the gaze when this would be expected.... Whatever causes the inability to use the language of the eyes has nothing to do with avoidance of human contact." As you will learn later in this book, the problems of gaze and other attributes of autism are often improved or disappear with natural medicine therapies that resolve the biological issues involved in an individual case.
Myth: People with autism are actually geniuses, or savants like Dustin Hoffman's character in the film Rain Man.
Only one in ten people with autism have what are termed "islets of ability or intelligence," such as unusual artistic or musical talent or extraordinary calculation or memory skills. Like other children, the IQs of children with autism range throughout the scale, with only a small percentage falling in the lower and upper ranges. Dysfunction in certain areas of mental processing is common to autistic children.
Myth: Children with autism don't speak.
On the contrary, many develop "good functional language," while most others learn to communicate through sign language, pictures, computers, or electronic devices. As with other features of autism, the more the biological factors can be ameliorated, the greater the possibility that the child will attain normal language skills.
Myth: Children with autism could talk if they wanted to.
One of the areas greatly affected by the neurological problems and developmental delays of autism is speech. Autistic muteness and lack of verbal response to questions is not a matter of stubbornness or noncompliance, but the result of developmental impairment of speech.
Myth: Children with autism can't show affection.
The Autism Society of America calls this "one of the most devastating myths for families." As with eye contact, the differences in their "wiring" may make autistic children express their love and affection differently from other children. This does not mean they can't give and receive love. Family members need to be willing to meet the child on her terms and recognize her capacity to connect.
Myth: Children with autism lack feelings and emotions.
Clearly, this is not the case, as evidenced by temper tantrums and happy laughter. The fact that many autistic children lack affect in their facial expressions and speak in a flat tone if they do speak aids in the survival of this myth. As with the myth above, it is the communication of emotions, not their existence, that is the issue. All aspects of communication are problematic for autistic children due to their neurological dysfunction and developmental delays, and emotional communication is no exception. A seeming disregard for other people's feelings also fuels this myth. The disregard does not indicate that the child lacks emotions. One of the neurological impairments of autism is a lack of imagination; thus, the child cannot imagine what another person is thinking or feeling.
Myth: Children with autism are just spoiled kids with behavior problems.
This myth brings the curse of autism back to the parents' door. It reflects the tenaciousness of the psychological model. It also shows a lack of understanding of the profound and far-reaching effects of neurological impairment on behavior, mood, and motor and language development, among other areas.
Myth: Autism is forever. If the condition improves significantly, it means the child was misdiagnosed and does not have autism.
Excerpted from AUTISM by Stephanie Marohn. Copyright © 2012 Stephanie Marohn. Excerpted by permission of Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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