Autism is Treatable: Hope that is real, treatments that heal
By Lisa Reagan
My name is Michael Augerson.
I'm autistic. Basically when you're autistic, you feel urges to do things that you really need to do. You can't stop yourself. Like you have taken a drug. You have no idea what others are talking about, because it doesn't make any sense to you. Others think of you as a freak, loon, or a retard.
I was able to find a way to change. Some doctors have been able to find the problems and correct them. I have a special diet, take a lot of vitamins, stay away from chemicals and take medicine for my colon and an antifungal. For me, it's like I've become a new man (or should I say teen). I now have an ability to control myself. I can understand the plot of a book and movie. I can have friends without them teasing me. I've also changed physically. A year ago, I was shorter than my brother who is three years younger. Now I'm as tall as my mother. I feel as if I've been reborn. For the first time in fourteen years, I feel normal. Other people don't see me as normal yet. I would like it if they would treat me as an equal.
I still have some problems and am willing to go through tests to find the answers. I think one day I might be able to succeed in not being autistic. It would be a dream come true for me and my family.
Written by Michael Augerson, 14, in June 2004. Michael, whose parents were told he would be institutionalised, has been healed through biomedical treatments and has been mainstreamed into a public school where he is an honour roll student.
Parents pioneer alternative paths to recovery
When Michael was diagnosed by a neurologist with severe autism at age three, he did not recognise his mother, was highly aggressive, self-abusive and rarely slept. 'Back then, in 1989, no-one knew what autism was, much less how to treat it,' explains Michael's mother Sara.
Back then, Sara was also told that her cravings for two to three cans of tuna fish a day were healthy for her pregnancy. These days, thousands of families are discovering successful biomedical treatments for autism and cans of tuna carry warning labels to pregnant mothers about possible mercury contamination.
Like many parents of autistic children, Sara was left on her own to discover through her mother's intuition and observation what did and didn't help Michael's symptoms. She observed that diet changes, treatments for fungal infections and parasites were attributing to her son's slow, but medically documented recovery from severe autism.
'It was a literal fluke that we discovered in Singapore — when our entire family was being treated for parasites — that this medicine would help Michael's autism. Within hours of being treated he improved dramatically. Now I can tell by looking at him if he has another parasite in him.'
Sara believes her son's recovery milestones over the years have been a Catch-22. 'People don't believe that these kids get better. When Michael starts improving, people say he wasn't autistic to begin with. It was really hard to get anyone to listen to us. There was no methodology to follow for treatments. We were in a constant crisis and just running with it.'
Sara and her family are one of thousands of families who have discovered successful treatments for their children's autism and shared their successes with other parents and researchers at the Autism Research Institute, a San Diego-based nonprofit and world centre for research and information that has tracked promising treatments — discovered by parents and researchers — since 1967. ARI's database is the world's largest with more than 37,000 detailed case histories of autistic children from over 60 countries.
Until 1964, when ARI's founder Bernard Rimland, PhD, released his groundbreaking book, Infantile Autism: The Syndrome and its Implications for a Neural Theory of Behaviour
, the current medical belief was that autism was caused by an unloving 'refrigerator' mother and the sanctioned medical treatment for autism was 'for the mother to acknowledge her guilt, and disclose why she hated the child and wished it had never been born'.
'The child, in so-called “play therapy” was provided with a paper or clay image of a woman (his mother) and was encouraged to tear it to bits, thus expressing his hostility towards his mother, whom the psychotherapists were positive had caused his autism. There were a few drugs that were also used with autistic children, but then, as now, the idea was not to treat the autism but to slow the children down enough to make life tolerable for those who must deal with them,' said Rimland.
Rimland's book, inspired by the birth of his own autistic son Mark in 1956, exposed the lack of scientific evidence to support the 'bad mother' cause of autism, won the 1964 Century Award, and attracted the attention of parents worldwide who contacted Rimland and shared with him their personal treatment successes with their own autistic children.
Rimland went on to found the Autism Research Institute that has independently researched and chronicled these successful treatments over the past 40 years. In October 2004, over 1,000 families presented their children's medically documented recoveries from autism to the public and media at the annual ARI Defeat Autism Now! conference in Los Angeles, California.
The documented epidemic of autism
From the 60s to today, the rate of autism has skyrocketed in the United States from 1 in 10,000 to 1 in 166, and a further 1 in 6 children is diagnosed with a developmental disorder, according to the Autism Alert released by the US Department of Health & Human Services, the Centres for Disease Control, and the American Academy of Pediatrics in February 2004. Over 30,000 Australian children have autism, with a dramatic increase of more than 200% in diagnoses over the past 10 years in Australia.
Autism is not a disease but a 'condition' often characterised by a failure to bond, lack of social interaction, avoidance of eye-to-eye contact, difficulties in language development, and repetitive behaviours known as stimming (self-stimulation). Milder forms of autism are Asperger's Syndrome, Pervasive Developmental Disorder and Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Collectively they are known as Autism Spectrum Disorder.
While cases of autism have exploded over the last 40 years, medical treatments have not. Today, still abandoned by mainstream medical practitioners, parents and even grandparents — many of whom are scientists and physicians themselves — have consistently remained the pioneers of successful treatments and even cures. Many of these parents have worked with the scientists at the Autism Research Institute to create the Defeat Autism Now! protocol that is freely shared with other suffering families.
The name of the movement and its protocol, Defeat Autism Now! (DAN!) was in response 'to the complacency and lack of urgency that were so evident at the National Institutes of Health, and at the medical schools, where research on the treatment of autism was virtually non-existent, except for experimental trials of various drugs designed for use on adults,' testified Rimland to the US House Government Reform Subcommittee on Human Rights & Wellness in November 2003. The congressional subcommittee is currently investigating alternative treatments for autism.
'The experience of scientists and physicians within the DAN! movement leads us to the paradox that while the epidemic must spring from common causes, the treatment of children caught in the epidemic demands a thoughtful respect for their individuality. We wish to share with fellow scientists, clinicians, and family members, observation and data that may help our communities take on the responsibilities demanded by an epidemic: a capacity for prompt response to evolving information from direct experience with the situation,' said Rimland.
Jaquelyn McCandless, MD, author of Children with Starving Brains: A Medical Treatment Guide for Autism Spectrum Disorder
, and a board certified neurologist and psychiatrist, began researching treatments for autism after her granddaughter was diagnosed in 1996. She has written her book in hopes of helping parents to become educated and empowered to take action now for their children.
'As a grandmother and psychiatrist, my passion to find answers made me impatient with psychiatry and behavioural medicine's head-in-the-sand attitude that autism is definitely genetic and thus incurable and untreatable except for early intervention and the use of behaviour-controlling drugs,' writes McCandless.
'Many medical doctors still advise patients not to bother with special diets or vitamins and minerals… One doctor insisted that if there was no evidence of mercury in the blood test then there was no point in pursuing the heavy metal issue further, not aware or interested in the fact that the presence of mercury, except for a very recent heavy exposure, will not show up on regular blood tests.
'To no avail I pointed out that many of the doctors and researchers who pursue “new” approaches are parents or grandparents of children with autism and would not be trying these methods on their own kin if they thought they weren't safe and effective.'