I am a graduate of the Yale Law School, with extensive experience in complex commercial litigation. Today, however, my profession is procurer of unprocessed and unadulterated foods, personal chef, home health aide, therapy provider, medical researcher, and appointment coordinator for my seven-year-old son, Martin.
The position is full-time, because Martin is recovering from autism.
To say so openly—that Martin is recovering from autism—is new. For the past several years, I’ve kept my mouth shut about Martin’s recovery process.
When Martin was diagnosed with autism at age two, in October 2010, he was incapable of falling asleep, and often incapable of staying asleep, unless physically restrained. My husband (Adrian) and I slept in shifts, one dozing while the other pinned Martin’s ankles to keep his little legs from flailing. On the worst nights, we had to work together, one holding Martin’s lower body, the other hugging Martin’s arms and shoulders until his little body could find rest. Daytimes, Martin alternated between running in circles and lying on the floor, where he pushed a toy car back and forth, making sing-song noises. Although he could echo words, he could not independently string words together. He had no concept of “yes,” or “I.”
The first months after diagnosis, Martin spent his waking hours undergoing conventional therapies—as much as 40 hours per week of Applied Behavioral Analysis, occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy. Yet nothing changed. He still didn’t sleep, or put words together, or make eye contact. Nothing changed, except that Martin became resistant to therapy.
At that time, under those circumstances, a tip from a friend brought me into conversation with “Annie,” a physician on leave to care for her own children. Yes, Annie told me, her son used to have autism. Now, at nine years old, he was fully recovered. Autism is symptomatic of medical disorders with a genetic component, Annie explained. She treated the underlying disorders, and the symptoms resolved.
That first day, over hours on the phone, Annie introduced me to healing diets, genetic profiling, supplementation, avoidance of chemicals and other environmental dangers. Immediately I compiled a binder of research on recovery from autism, which I handed to Adrian with the words, “This is what we’re going to do.” I made an appointment with a doctor who was pioneering the field of autism recovery, and Adrian and I agreed to abandon most traditional therapy and instead begin an extensive course of dietary, biomedical, and homeopathic interventions. “Biomed,” we call the treatment for shorthand.
In the beginning, Martin’s progress was swift. Within six weeks of eliminating gluten, dairy, soy, corn, refined sugar, most fruits and starches, and everything processed or artificial from his diet, Martin was falling asleep unassisted and, most nights, staying asleep. He no longer clenched his gut in pain. As we introduced supplements and other interventions, Martin stopped drifting. His lethargy lessened. He replaced his constant whine “You want, you wan, you wah…” with the pronoun “I.” He responded to his name. Adrian and I were ecstatic.
With the zeal of a new convert, I was ready to proclaim, “Autism can be treated! It works!” But it didn’t take long to discover that, even among fellow special-needs parents, I should keep my enthusiasm to myself. In 2011, the idea that autism is symptomatic of health conditions, instead of a psychiatric or neurological disorder, had not yet entered the realm of what most parents were willing to believe. People who knew nothing of autism recovery hounded me for depriving Martin of a “normal” childhood by withholding cotton candy and pizza. Others accused me of spreading disease by campaigning against vaccines. It didn’t matter that I’d never said a word about vaccines; to be recovering a child from autism was to be one and the same with Jenny McCarthy.
Soon I was hiding the fact that we do biomed. It’s allergies, I said. Martin has food allergies, so I bring his food everywhere. The supplements, I tucked into a cabinet until no one was looking. The B12 injections, I didn’t mention. Shouting autism recovery from the rooftops? Not so much.
But times and attitudes change. What’s going on in the laboratory is starting to catch up with what’s been going on in the field. Media reports are cropping up about the connection between autism and gut bacteria, immune disorder, proprionic acid, mitochondrial deficits, pesticide exposure.
It’s 2016 now. Martin attends second grade in a school that targets speech and language delays. One evening, at an event for parents from Martin’s class, the topic turns to what we do for our children outside of school. Emboldened by the knowledge that at least one of Martin’s classmates follows a gluten- and dairy-free diet, I admit, “We do biomed,” and look for the cold shoulder.
This time, it doesn’t come. The half-dozen mothers, apparently recognizing the term “biomed,” nod approvingly. Two ask me to explain further. One mother says that going gluten-free helped her son, but that she found it too hard to sustain long-term—could I help her with some recipes? Another mother says that three of her four children have some form of sensory issues, and she wonders whether the whole family could follow a biomedical protocol.
And I realize: I don’t need to hide this anymore.
This is our story. We are a biomed family. My son is recovering from autism. He’s not there yet. He still has social challenges and an infinitesimal attention span, and his mitochondrial disorder makes him quick to tire. But in five years, Martin has developed into a kid fully engaged with the world, who makes eye contact, responds to his name, speaks in complete sentences (he’s bilingual), asks questions, has very few repetitive behaviors, swims, rock-climbs, rides his bicycle, ice skates, skis, and looks at his mom’s face for reassurance in difficult situations.
I’ve given up much to walk the biomed path with Martin.
But how could I regret that?