I call myself a fiscal conservative and social libertarian. I support capitalism. I think that, ultimately, the self-interest that capitalism engenders moves “the group whole” forward. Capitalism isn’t an ideal system, but we don’t live in an ideal world. Altruism, community spirit, and a peaceful life unfortunately don’t provide sufficient motivation. Instead, we—we humans—like to compete. A properly regulated and administrated capitalist system should enable workers to choose how they want to profit: financially, with free time, through notoriety or renown, in job satisfaction or altruism, &c. A properly regulated and administrated capitalist system, I think, functions best on the shoulders of an educated populace, and a profit engine that responds to its demands.
I’ve said before: I’m wildly simplifying. A blog post allows only so much depth.
One particularly American notion that I like is the marketplace of ideas. An arena for vigorous debate enables participants to consider and reject, to separate the (non-glyphosate, organic) wheat from the chaff, to ponder what makes stupidity stupid.
Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. Boo-yah.
I also believe that what’s happening to our health, to the immune systems of our children, to the neural functioning of our elderly, results from profit motivation. From greed. Glyphosate, genetically modified organisms, inadequately scrutinized vaccines, a world blanketed in electromagnetic radiation—some part of these developments might arise from a desire to feed the world or protect health or push us forward, but the greater instigator is financial advantage. (Don’t go all frenetic on my implicating this partial list of immunity bandits. I’ve admitted that I don’t science. I’m figuring out what I can, from the resources I have. I’m working on a blog post that lays out my own understanding of glyphosate and its role in autism rates.) Profit-seeking is running amok and trampling the vulnerable. Not the traditional vulnerable, like the poor and migrants. The newly vulnerable victims of our own success.
Run Away from Autism Recovery! It’s Like the Plague!
Last month I invested ten minutes reading a blog post titled “Autism: Whom to Trust, and Whom to Run from Like the Plague.” The author’s thesis is that autism is not treatable biomedically, and that any organization that supports treatment of autism is suspect. More than suspect, actually. TACA, AutismOne, Generation Rescue, they are all really, really bad. Like, plague bad.
The blogger implicates even Autism Speaks, which is a gigantic and wealthy organization that does not advocate biomedical treatment of autism. Autism Speaks concerns itself with raising money and “awareness,” as if, with ASD rates what they are, we need “awareness” more than research. The blogger’s beef with Autism Speaks is that “Only recently, Autism Speaks reversed its stated position on vaccines. For two years prior, they claimed that there was a connection between vaccines and autism.” In a move that marks the blogger as a likely outsider to the autism community, she mis-cites the slogan “Autism Speaks doesn’t speak for me.” She apparently attributes that slogan to (1) “actual autism advocates” who are angry that Autism Speaks, once, mildly, gently, suggested that vaccines may play a role in the development of ASD symptoms, or (2) persons on the spectrum who self-advocate against treatment. Quite the contrary: “Autism Speaks doesn’t speak for me” comes from families like mine, the ones who are angry that Autism Speaks raises the lion’s share of resources but doesn’t address health or cure.
The blog I’m talking about is called Dawn’s Brain and written by “Dawn Pedersen,” who describes herself as “a science advocate, web designer, educator, artist, and mommy.” Her qualifications are “a BA in fine art, an MA in education,” and “an AS in biology” that she will “complete . . . this fall.” As you know, I’m not a medical professional or an autism authority. Still, I (Martin’s mom) am, um, a “science advocate” (when it comes to the science behind immune disorders that manifest as autism), an “educator” (when it comes to addressing the immune disorders that manifest as autism), a lawyer (no asterisk; I just am), and a mommy. I have several impressive-sounding, albeit functionally limited, degrees: a B.A. in religion, magazine writing, and German literature; a master’s in religious studies; an M.F.A. in writing. I have a somewhat-more-useful juris doctorate, and have passed more than one bar exam. Plus, even though I don’t science well, I am smack in the middle of a Ph.D. in autism recovery studies from the University of Martin and His Doctors. I therefore declare myself even more qualified than Dawn Pedersen to talk about autism.
We Are Polarized
Given that Dawn Pedersen seems to be an outsider to the autism community, whose major qualification for assessing that state of autism research is working toward an associate’s degree in biology, it is fair to ask what’s motivating her to deride promoters of biomedical recovery.
I read through the comments to the “Avoid Like the Plague” post. Consider—
Comment from a Reader Named Carmen:
I’m sorry, whoever in the world does not think that gluten/dairy are inflammatory foods that in turn have a negative neurological effect on humans in general but even more so on Autistic people [is] in denial and not looking at the evidence. . . . My 3 year old is autistic and I have seen [LEAPS] and bounds improvement with his overall happiness with these diet changes. . . . Maybe it doesn’t work for every kid/person and it certainly doesn’t “cure” autism but it absolutely eases some of the undesirable (for my son) symptoms. I could go on and on. I guess you’re also saying that refined sugar, chemicals in our food, dyes and gmos don’t make things worse[—]asinine!
Reply from Dawn Pedersen:
All our foods are made of chemicals. Refined sugar breaks down into glucose in our digestive system like any other carbohydrate. There is nothing wrong and everything right about genetically modified foods.
Do you have a plausible explanation for how nutrients can travel backwards in time, to reverse differences in cognitive development in the womb?
You are promoting the very nonscientific explanations I am decrying. You’re promoting ideas that are victim-blaming, and without evidentiary merit or plausible mechanism.
More comments pile on, criticizing Dawn Pedersen for dismissing the experience of an actual autism parent, asking Dawn Pedersen if she’s heard of the CDC’s William Thompson, thanking Dawn Pedersen for her list of organizations to avoid like the plague because it actually provides a handy chart of good resources. To these comments, Dawn Pedersen doesn’t respond.
Her blog, it seems to be, represents a trend: polarization through outright dismissal of any view that isn’t our own.
Polarization: No Open Exchange, No Transparency
Polarization is the opposite of transparency and open exchange of information and ideas. I heard a commentary on NPR opining that it is dangerous and unnecessary even to present vaccine-safety concerns, because the CDC’s vaccine views have no valid counterpoint. NPR is wading into paternalistic reporting, discerning what Americans need to hear and disregarding the rest. (Sorry to pick on NPR. Every mainstream outlet does an abysmal job covering vaccine safety. Investigative journalism? Not. There is even a TED talk arguing, in part, that parents with vaccine concerns should not be heard.) According to recent polling, 52% of American adults are unsure whether vaccines can result in autism, and another 6% say that vaccines can result in autism. If 58% of Americans believed that or were unsure whether the earth was flat, I would want to hear their views. I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t win me over, but I would listen. Today, any journalist who dares mention that Gardasil seems to be leading to injuries and deaths, or that unvaccinated children might enjoy better health overall, or that the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program does compensate children who develop autism faces public excoriation. We’ve left open exchange in the dust.
What about transparency? What motivates Dawn Pedersen? Is she just really, really fired up about quashing any hope of autism recovery, even though she doesn’t seem to have a child on the spectrum? A SeaWorld employee was recently found to be posing, for years, as an animal-rights activist and trying to incite violence within peaceful protests, to make the activists seem dangerous. Monsanto evidently has a behind-the-scenes department devoted to “debunking” science that suggests glyphosate or GMOs are harmful. With all the subterfuge in our world, I wonder what is guiding Dawn Pedersen.
Is it just advertising revenue? The advertisements that popped up when I visited Dawn’s Brain included OceanSpray, Fairmont Hotels, Walks of New York, WayFair.com, intuit QuickBooks, Lexus, University of Phoenix, Hedwig and the Angry Inch on Broadway, and RoyalCarribean International. That’s an impressive list. Dawn Pedersen must be able to show plenty of hits to Dawn’s Brain for ad revenue like that. (And here I come with my little post, stirring even more traffic. Sigh.) Dawn Pedersen, “science advocate,” also has other sites like Kids Busy Book and Draw to Learn, which she promotes on Dawn’s Brain. So she has the motivation to draw visitors to those sites, too.
It’s apparent, at least, that Dawn Pedersen gets a lot of web traffic by promoting the mainstream. By insulting those who peek beneath the surface. She has her sights set on easy targets, like parents trying to recover their children or fighting for healthier foods. Because why? Views are mainstream when most people accept them. People like to hear their views confirmed. People reassure themselves by insulting those disagree with them. People enjoy reading blogs that promote their own opinions. (If you stick with Finding My Kid, it’s a fair bet you think autism recovery is a good idea.) There is much to be gained through dismissing alternative ideas, and I wager Dawn Pedersen is happy to be profiting by doing so.
Always Figure in the Profit Motivation
Don’t get me wrong. I’m no Pollyanna. Dawn Pedersen not the only one profiting off, in this instance, autism. Autism recovery, while achievable in many cases, is so complicated to navigate, and autism can be so devastating for families, that desperation is running rampant. Desperation invites charlatans. One walk through the sponsor corridor of an autism-recovery conference shows as much. Remember what I posted about AutismOne? The guy with magic salts and vibrating machines? He’s not the only one. Vendors hawk antioxidant sweeteners, nutritional shakes, bracelets and amulets to block electromagnetic fields, CD’s of brain-calming sounds, pressure-point stimulators, you name it. Conference sponsors pay for their spot on the floor, and they want to recoup that investment. Parents who’ve found nothing that helps will buy anything.
It is easy to see why some families choose to write off the field of autism recovery altogether.
Beyond the snake-oil salesmen are practitioners making money off what actually works. Take hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HbOT), for example. I believe (despite lack of mainstream confirmation) that it can improve cognition and neural function in children with autism. But it is very expensive, and the gains sometimes don’t seem to stick after the child stops using the HbOT chamber. Thus, although HbOT “works,” it may not justify the tremendous expense (up to $10,000 for a series of 40 dives). Likewise are the controversial ionic footbaths, said to help detoxify the body. They really do seem to help, a little. But they can cost thousands of dollars, and similar results might be achievable through clay or Epsom-salt-and-baking-soda baths. Rest assured, we have no shortage of entrepreneurs ready to sell you an expensive footbath or HbOT therapy. Autism families will pay dearly for any help: vitamin B12 shots, signaling devises to find children who bolt, special combinations of vitamin supplements.
How can you ever be sure? You can’t. Here I will wade into controversy (ha! as if I usually don’t): I never trusted the late Dr. Jeff Bradstreet. He is such a big name in the autism-recovery movement, and many parents insist that Dr. Bradstreet was everything to their children’s healing. Still, Dr. Bradstreet rubbed me the wrong way. At an AutismOne talk this spring, he said that parents “owe it to their kids” to try MRT for at least a week, because it’s “not much money”—only $1,000 in MRT fees, several hundred dollars for a consult with him, travel expenses to Atlanta, and a week’s worth of hotel lodging and eating out, all for a treatment that, by his own (optimistic, it seems to me) prediction, might help 50% of kids. He said “not much money” to a roomful of autism caregivers, many of whom had probably blown their families’ vacation budgets for the year on getting to the AutismOne conference. I wanted to raise my hand and say, “Thank you for your work and research, Dr. Bradstreet, but please don’t advise these parents to give you their last dime on a wing and a prayer, and don’t tell them they ‘owe’ that to their kids.”
I am, however, and of course, grieving that Dr. Bradsteet is among the many alternative health practitioners (many rumored to be proponents of GcMAF) who’ve recently gone missing or died under questionable circumstances. I haven’t looked into this issue much. I’m suspicious about Dr. Bradstreet committing suicide. I mean, who wades into a river to shoot himself in the chest?
For me, any high-profile doctor presents a dilemma. On the one hand, I don’t want to penalize anyone for his/her success. If a doctor is helping children recover and earning plenty, good for him/her. On the other hand, becoming high-profile often requires more self-promotion than attention to individual patients, and sometimes involves selling miracles, like Dr. Bradstreet with his Bravo yogurt or Dr. Zach Bush with his Restore supplement. For me, for my own peace of mind, I prefer lesser-known doctors and practitioners to treat Martin. Otherwise it’s too easy to get lost in hype and lose perspective when it comes to evaluating results. As a biomed parent, I already feel like I have to take a stand against the mainstream world every day. If every other biomed parent says Dr. X or Dr. Y is the super-best, and I end up in disagreement, do I trust myself enough to stand against the biomed world, too?
I Say: Let Everyone Speak, and Prod Them to Reveal Their True Motivations
My husband’s employer has a generous foundation that matches charitable donations. The foundation recently announced a new policy: It will no longer match contributions to organizations that oppose marriage equality or full rights for LGBTQ persons. I, personally, would not donate to any organization that opposes marriage equality or full rights for LGBTQ persons. I, personally, support marriage equality and full rights for LGBTQ persons. Let’s face it—I’ve got bigger concerns in life than your gender or whom you love. Nevertheless, I can’t say that I approve of the foundation’s new policy. The policy quashes debate. It says, “This issue is so settled that we won’t listen to the other side.” When it comes to LGBTQ rights, I think the issue should be settled. I think. Others disagree. I wouldn’t silence their voices.
Decades ago, when I was deciding where to attend law school, I visited Yale Law School and asked about its Career Options Assistance Program. COAP repays the student loans of graduates who choose lower-paying jobs; the law school is expensive and doesn’t offer scholarships, so unless they get some help, its graduates are likely to funnel into big law firms or other high-paying jobs. At the time of my visit, I was smarting from being told, by another school, that I didn’t qualify for a public-interest scholarship because I wanted to work in animal protection, and animal protection isn’t “public interest.” At the Yale roundtable, I asked a dean whether availability of COAP funds depended on the type of work a graduate performed, as opposed to just the amount of money s/he earned.
“No,” the dean answered. “COAP is based strictly on income. We have no interest in dictating which fields our graduates enter.”
That’s the way it should be. We should encourage advocates to get out there and fight for their viewpoint, regardless of whether we agree. There is no value in not bothering even to engage minority positions. There is no value in browbeating others into silence. There is no value in hiding who is (or what funds are) really behind that browbeating. I shouldn’t have to wonder what motivates Dawn Pedersen to decry autism recovery, whether she is just driving traffic to her site, or whether some sponsor is buying her keystrokes.
I have no issue with money used to promote a viewpoint, especially when the source of the funds is acknowledged. I take issue with money used to pretend there is no counter-viewpoint, especially when the source of the funds is not acknowledged.
Does Progress End?
I launched this overblown post by stating, “I think that, ultimately, the self-interest that capitalism motivates moves everyone forward.” In the alternative universe of autism recovery, I find myself rethinking whether we’re still moving forward. We made it to a pretty good place here in these United States. The standard of living is high, chronic hunger affects few (though still too many), the stores are stocked, most everyone can read. We have labor laws to protect our children and zoning to neaten our urban spaces. We have choices.
But we’re chronically sick. Our marketplace demands cheap food, so we skimp on production. Our fertilization methods deplete the soil biome. As a result, the crops are less nutrient-varied. Then we compound the problem by processing the food. We meet the demand for over-consumption of meat by abusing animals on an industrial scale, in ways even our bear-baiting ancestors couldn’t have envisioned. Intensive confinement of animals requires such reliance on antibiotics that many are losing their value.
Even by official statistics, rates of asthma and allergies are increasing. That’s on top of the skyrocketing rates of autism, ADD, ADHD, and other childhood health problems that result in behavioral challenges. We’re raising the first American generation expected die younger than their parents do.
Dawn Pedersen, “science advocate,” might believe, or might profit from asserting, that we’re headed the right direction. As for me, the direction that we are heading is enough to make this capitalist wonder if she’d prefer to move off the grid.
No sponsors were involved in the creation of this post. None of my many degrees includes the art of self-promotion to advertisers. Of course, if you’d like to send me a check, whoever you are, I’ll take it! Party on, autism warriors.