Now He’s Wondering

Six months ago, when Adrian and I tried to talk to Martin about his remaining challenges, Martin seemed almost indifferent. If anything, he avoided the topic.

During that conversation, which was designed to highlight Martin’s strengths along with his weaknesses, we discussed what we’re “good at” and “not so good at”—nothing about a diagnosis or giving a name to Martin’s challenges.

Subsequently, in one of our heartfelt bedtime conversations, I decided to offer Martin a more concrete focus. I asked whether he had ever heard of autism. (He thought he had.) Then I said that social situations are difficult because he used to have autism and still is catching up to his peers.

Again I was met by apparent indifference. Martin said, basically, “Oh.” I didn’t push the topic, but since then I’ve used the word “autism” occasionally: We eat a special diet to make sure the autism stays away, we take pills to finish getting rid of the autism, &c.

Martin never followed my lead and talked autism. Until now. Over the past week, Martin seems to have become interested in autism.

He’s asked questions designed to help him understand himself: “Does autism make me interested in adult topics?” Really not sure what he meant by ‘adult topics’! I’m telling myself he meant literature and history . . . . “Does autism make me see things different from other kids?” In these questions, he uses the present tense, as in, how does the fact of autism, regardless of whether it’s the current diagnosis, affect me today?

He’s told me things, for the first time, that confirm suspicions I’ve long held: Even before Martin seemed cognizant of the world around him, he was. We had this conversation:

Martin: “I hate that I’m bad at making friends.”

Me: “I know it’s still hard. Can we think about how it’s getting easier? This school year was so much better than last year. And I bet next year will be even better still. You’ve made progress. When you were little, you wouldn’t even respond to your name.”

Martin: “When I was little, I heard you calling, but I didn’t have the attention to answer.”

I’ve been trying to imagine that anguish. He recognized his name yet had no means to show us.

He’s forced me to impart some elementary biomed theory, as when he asked, “Why was I born with autism?” I responded by attempting to explain that something hurt his wellness system, whether before he was born or after. I referenced his uncles to explain that troubles with wellness systems run in families: Both my older brothers have asthma and environmental allergies, and one also has food allergies and has suffered from chronic bronchitis. These were perhaps the responses that left Martin looking the most quizzical.

Finally, he’s prompted me to reflect on my own feelings. He asked, “Do you think it’s fair that I used to have autism?” I started with honesty: No, I do notthink it’s fair that my son got autism. Then I tried to temper that answer by modeling gratitude. “Can you think of a friend who still has autism?” I wasn’t sure whether he would respond; we’ve never used the word “autism” in reference to any of his friends. But almost immediately, he named a little pal of his who uses “quiet voice,” i.e., whose verbal ability remains limited. I asked whether he thought his friend would like to be able to talk more, like he can now.

Martin said yes, that he thought his friend would like to be able to talk more. I said that I’m thankful for Martin’s hard work and progress.

My boy—whose verbal skills once were limited to echolalia but who, through biomedical intervention, has become able to express himself meaningfully through spoken language—guessed that his friend would also like to acquire spoken language.

For me at least, that answer gives lie to any neurodiversity movement that objects to biomedical interventions aimed at alleviating or eliminating autistic symptoms. In December 2014, I wrote on this blog: “[I]n all my experience communicating and working with other ASD families, I am yet to hear from anyone who regained his/her health biomedically and subsequently says, ‘I wish we hadn’t done this. I prefer being autistic to being neurotypical’.” I wonder if the day is approaching when I can count Martin among those who would never say, “I wish we hadn’t done this.”


That’s Martin. I promise. It is.

All That Could Be

A former work colleague, now a friend, messaged me the piece on a Rhodes Scholar with autism. This friend has a brother with autism and a son with severe anxiety troubles, and she knows that Martin has autism. (She may or may not know that, really, Martin had autism.) About the Rhodes Scholar, she wrote simply: “Love this.”

I responded:

I love it, too. But I also don’t love it.

A story like this is terrific because it reminds people that ability does not depend upon behavioral factors, and that awkwardness or perseveration are often just covers for awesomeness! Also, it’s a powerful message to go out and achieve, without excuses.

On the other hand, celebratory and feel-good stories tend to normalize autism in a way that I find unproductive. This is what feeds the “neurodiversity” movement, the idea that neurological variations just happen, and we need to stop trying to “correct” neurodivergent behavior. It’s like, If you can be autistic and a Rhodes Scholar, why would you not want to be autistic?

I don’t support neurodiversity or the feel-good approach to autism. What’s also going on in this story is that a mother had to sacrifice her own career (in toto) and personal success in order to give her son this opportunity. And that this young man, an Oxford-bound college graduate, cannot live independently and perhaps never will. And that he needs a service dog to assist with interactions, and that it’s unclear whether he’ll achieve the depth of interpersonal relationships that lead to marriage and the sustenance of enduring friendships.

I guess that seems like a pretty bleak view. My view of persons on the autism spectrum is blindingly bright. They achieve so much despite struggling with issues that the neurotypical cannot, truly (I include myself), fathom. My view of autism itself, however, is negative. “Autism” is the symptoms of underlying health and immune disorders that can, and should, be treated. In terms of the young man profiled in this story, I would suppose that autism may have given him the (perseverative/obsessive) focus to acquire vast amounts of facts/knowledge. But that amazing brain of his would have been present and functional even without the autism—and perhaps he could have become an independent Rhodes Scholar who will miss his family and girlfriend and football buddies during his years in England. And perhaps his mother could be practicing medicine and available to help others, free from the monopoly of her son’s needs.

I am 100% sure this is more than you wanted to hear this morning! It’s a topic I feel so strongly about that sometimes I can’t help myself. The way I look at it is this: Autism was never an essential part of my son, and it’s not an essential part of anyone on the spectrum. It’s an imposed condition that can be alleviated or eradicated through the right biomedical treatment (though not always, not by a long shot). My son is witty and charming. He’s going to go to Princeton or maybe Yale, and he could well end up a Rhodesie, if he doesn’t decide the Marshall Scholarship or a Fulbright is a better fit. I’d prefer if he does all that without the burden of autism.

Does that make sense? Honestly, it’s hard for me to write about these things because I worry about offending others who are touched by autism, which as time goes by is more and more of us. I’ve got a “love the sinner, hate the sin” relationship with autism, albeit in foggier terms. I admire the person—and could do well enough without the autism.

I sent the message off with trepidation, almost chagrin. I like this friend. She’s never been anything but kind, and I feared insulting her. It is so tricky, to discuss recovery with an autism family member who’s not pursuing biomed. I would never want to suggest that anyone else is providing inadequately, or has to be doing biomed, or anything similar. We all do what we can.

I hope she responds well.

Del Sur V: Manifesto

“Do you know?—maybe it’s possible that he never had autism?”

These words were spoken innocently, by a sympathetic party, and (I suspect) without forethought. It was late evening in South America. Martin was asleep. My mother-in-law and I sat in her kitchen, chatting, I with a glass of white wine, she with her pisco sour. We were discussing Martin and his progress; I mentioned that his official diagnosis had changed from ASD to ADHD with social/pragmatic language delay. My mother-in-law responded, “Do you know?—maybe it’s possible that he never had autism?”

My mother-in-law supports everything we do for Martin, and does her best to accommodate; we arrived from New York to find her fridge stocked with organic produce (still hard to procure in her area) and a cow knuckle and vegetables simmering on her stove, for Martin’s broth. That being said, I’m not sure she fully understands biomed, or our start point and desired endpoint. This is no criticism of my mother-in-law. I’m not convinced that anyone outside the thick of recovering a child understands autism or what healing requires. I’m not even convinced that I understand autism or what healing requires; I’m just a few paces farther down that road than others are.

Still, when my mother-in-law offhandedly suggested that maybe Martin never had autism, I bristled. I bristled because I think I will hear that suggestion a lot, as Martin continues to become more typical. Already I hear hints. A friend who has a mostly nonverbal seven-year-old and does not do biomed remarked recently about how “maturity” is resolving a lot of Martin’s issues. The friend meant no harm; in her mind, biomed doesn’t work, so she needs something else to explain Martin’s emergence from autism. (I didn’t pursue the issue further. I’m cautious, with other autism parents. We’re all doing what we think we can.) And remember the neurodevelopmental psychiatrist’s words? According to her, Martin developed functional language because he was “not destined to be a child with receptive or expressive language problems.” It’s not biomedical interventions. It’s destiny!

I know, from other blogs and on-line communities, that parents who manage to recover their kids from autism face skepticism that their children ever had autism. You may ask, why should they care? The opinion of naysayers doesn’t affect their children’s recovery. Why should I care if another autism parent wants to chalk Martin’s ongoing recovery up to “maturity,” or a doctor implicates destiny over hard work?

Well, I care, we care, everyone should care, because denying biomed has far greater implications than just adhering to ingrained misconceptions about autism.

It is possible to recover from autism. Not to learn to live with autism’s symptoms, which is what behavioral therapies teach, but to eradicate autism by treating the disorder’s underlying medical causes. I know this to be true, because my son is recovering from autism. I’m not deluded. I have the blood work and urinalysis evincing his medical issues. I have the series of neurodevelopmental psychiatric reports describing his detachment, his lack of language, his emotional instability. I witnessed too well his lethargy and physical discomfort. I endured his sleeplessness. I have watched, over five years, as his medical issues alleviated and the autism symptoms improved in tandem.

Every case of autism is different. Yet there are commonalities. The presence of autism points to an immune disorder rooted in the gut, where 70% of the immune system resides. A healthy gut biome has plenty of good bacteria to keep germs and infections at bay. When something depletes the good bacteria—say, antibiotics, or glyphosate—the bad guys start to party. Any further insult, like insufficient vaccine absorption or exposure to environmental toxins, can cause the whole immune system to jump its rails. When you’ve got no properly functioning immune system, you can find yourself with a host of secondary problems, like neuroinflammation, excess propionic acid, a struggling thyroid, glutathione depletion and methylation troubles, opportunistic infections, an inability to secrete heavy metals. And then? Neuron misfires. The endgame that manifests in autism.

Autism rates are on the rise. Stunningly. Think of those graphs that represent worldwide human population: Autism’s growth is similarly exponential, even according to conservative CDC figures. The epidemic is not the result of greater awareness, or expanded diagnoses; if it were, we would expect to see most cases clustered at the mild, almost debatable, end of the spectrum, where the merely “quirky” kids reside. Instead, new autism diagnoses litter the entire spectrum. Non-verbal, acutely affected autism is on the rise just like Asperger’s. Those who deny the rising autism rates are the willful ignoramuses and the irrational optimists. I am out of patience for either.

We don’t know, yet, what “causes” autism, though every day we learn more about factors that may contribute to the development of autism. I mentioned a few above: overuse of antibiotics, unsafe vaccinations, pesticides. Activists speculate about the role of pollution, about electromagnetic fields, about C-section births (or not) and the newborn’s chance to benefit from the vaginal biome. Genetics also play a role, such as the MTHFR mutation or UBE3A mutation.

(Note this: Accepting that genetics play a role in development of autism is not saying that we “can’t do anything about” the autism epidemic. The genetic predisposition to autism has probably been around many generations; only now do new environmental triggers spur the subsequent development of the disorder. Plus, more and more we have to speak not of genetics proper, but of epigenetics, mutations with the capacity to arise or dissipate between generations, or even within a single generation.)

Which brings me to many people’s resistance to accepting the notion of biomed. If we accept that we can reverse autism by resolving the factors that caused it in the first instance—then we admit that something is causing autism. Based on the exploding autism numbers, whatever is causing autism is getting worse. In an over-hygienic world devoted to unlimited consumption, exploitation of animals and the environment, a pill for every ailment, and the temple of convenience, we are doing something wrong. Disastrously wrong. In that regard, progress has stopped. Unless we change course, each successive generation will pay a higher bill for our abandonment of what is natural.

Unfortunately, almost no one seems to want to change course. So people deny that autism is on the rise, or that autism has causes, or that autism can be treated.

This is why I bristle to hear that maybe my son never had autism, or that he’s moving off the autism spectrum because of something other than biomed. It is also why I do not support the “neurodiversity” movement. Don’t get me wrong: I support the goal of inclusion and accommodation for persons living with autism. Did someone insult or exclude your family member with autism? Call me. I will gladly rush over and go Brooklyn on the jerk. But do not hand me acceptance of autism itself as a policy for dealing with skyrocketing autism rates. Do not tell me that autism is “just how some people are” and should not be addressed, because I will respond that schizophrenia and depression—other disorders with medical underpinnings—are also “just how some people are,” and give lie to how misguided neurodiversity is. People with autism should be accepted. Autism itself can, and should, be fought.

We can learn to live with just about anything. City dwellers learn to live with constant light and noise pollution. Our world may be on the verge of learning to live with catastrophic climate change. This ability to adapt does not mean that we should fail to recognize and correct our own mistakes.

My son had autism. My son still has ADHD. One day my son will be neurotypical. Treating his disorder biomedically has made this progress possible.

Full stop.


When this blog picks up a new follower, I receive an email informing me, and a link to the person’s profile, or own blog. Usually, I take a look. I’m interested to see who’s interested in Martin. Among the followers are fellow special-needs parents, foodies or Paleo-types who I assume like the recipes, “inspirational” folks, and generic bloggers who (I think) follow bajillions of blogs, hoping to procure reciprocal followers.

I also find that this blog is being followed, increasingly, by readers who self-identify as persons on the autism spectrum. I feel honored to have these followers, and I want to find a way to explain that, although my family is working hard to recover Martin from autism, it is not because anything is “wrong” with Martin, or wrong with living with autism. Unfortunately, I’m not talented enough to do that explanation justice; the issue is so delicate, and complex. So instead, I wrote this post—

Last week I encountered a new member at my CrossFit box, in the 8:30 am WOD frequented by parents who have put their children on school buses and are fitting in a workout before heading to employment. The new member was about my age and dressed in exercise leggings, a sport bra, and a tank top. The same way I was dressed. The same way at least two other women were dressed. The new member and I chatted and ended up walking together to the parking lot, where we discovered that our cars were parked next to each other. The same car, except hers is white and mine is gray. We both drive the European SUV model owned by, as far as I can tell, about 10% of the families in our suburban enclave.

Gosh, I thought as I climbed into my standard-issue vehicle, just how much of a conformist have I become? Here we live in a pleasant suburban area, where I stay at home (working some, though!) while my husband commutes to Manhattan. Our yard and garden are landscaped just like all the other houses, with similar plants in a similarly lush but uncluttered configuration. Like our neighbors, we change our front-door wreath by season: We display cranberries for winter, white flowers in summer, orange berries for “harvest season,” pinecones at Christmas. We fly our flag on the Fourth of July, have jack-o’-lanterns on the stoop right now, and will set out a ceramic snow elf after Thanksgiving. Martin and I attend one of the five local churches. Our family shops at the nearest Whole Foods Market, shows up for fairs and events, runs into neighbors at the pubs and restaurants. Through our actions, we have proclaimed ourselves just like everyone else.

The autism universe includes many people who argue against “changing” an ASD child and instead support some form of “neurodiversity,” in which relating to the world in an autistic way is accepted equally with relating to the world in a more neurotypical way. For example, a group called Aspies for Freedom advocates against most behavioral treatments, and all biomedical interventions, for children on the spectrum. The group, according to a blog post in its name, states, “Autism isn’t a tragedy, or a side-effect of genius—it’s a difference to be valued,” and stands against the “idea that being neorotypical (i.e. not autistic, or another psychological neurotype) is ‘better’ than being autistic.”

As I’ve written, I don’t share the view that encouraging acceptance of all persons means we shouldn’t try to heal the autistic child. The best way I’ve got to explain it is this: There are many ways in which I conform to a suburban-mom lifestyle. There are also ways in which I choose not to conform. I’m vegan. I don’t drive that European SUV around town if I can walk or bike instead. The landscaped lawn and plant beds around our house? Maintained by an organic gardener; we pay a premium to avoid the chemicals our neighbors use. When Adrian and I were buying a house, we chose our town, and not the neighboring village, because we value socioeconomic diversity more than having neighbors like our family. In these ways, I allow myself to be an exception.

And then there is at least one way in which, apart from any choice I make, I cannot conform. That’s autism. Because of autism, my son does not attend the local elementary school, does not play in the Saturday morning soccer league, and spends his free time in therapeutic settings.

So there are choices about conforming that are within my control, and choices about conforming that are outside of my control. I am happier when I can choose whether to conform, when it is up to me whether to fit in or to stand out.

That’s what I want for Martin. I want Martin to be able to choose whether he conforms, or whether he rejects expectations. When he enters a party, I want him to think, “Do I feel like working the room, or do I just want to grab food and skulk off to a sofa?” (I, Martin’s mom, usually grab food and skulk off. Any Myers & Briggs devotees out there? I’m INFJ, strong I.) What I don’t want is for Martin to feel like working the room is not an option for him. When it comes time for Martin to choose a job, I want him to think, “What do I like to do?” I don’t want him to think, “Does that job require interpersonal skills? Dynamic thinking? Will enough support be available for me?”

If Martin wants to act quirky, so be it. If he doesn’t want to make eye contact, so be it. If he doesn’t want to play sports, so be it. If he prefers to be alone, so be it. But these should be Martin’s choices, not choices that are made for him because an immune disorder, a medical condition, leaves him clumsy and makes it difficult to relate to others.

Our school district sends a behaviorist to our home each week. Recently I addressed Martin’s social progress by explaining that Martin has reached a point where he asks about other kids and wants to engage them but doesn’t seem to know how. The behaviorist said that wanting to engage is an important step. She advised that I might foster further development by observing other children with Martin and discussing strategies for approaching the children. Martin might find common ground, she suggested, by asking if the other kids like the same things as he does. What does Martin like? she asked. Does he like Yankees baseball, or Mets? Giants or Jets? Superheroes, like Iron Man or Captain America, that sort of stuff? SpongeBob? Pokémon? Disney? Frozen? Bike riding? Karate?

No, I replied. No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, and no. Martin likes classical music and drawing pictures. He doesn’t watch television or children’s movies.

You’ve got to get on that, the behaviorist advised. Have him do the same things as other kids. Give him some common ground.

That weekend Adrian and I took Martin, wearing a sports jersey, with his feet in brand-new Spider-Man sneakers, to see Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day, his first children’s movie outing with us. We are helping him conform now, so that later he can choose for himself.

To my readers with autism, thank you for coming to this space. I hope you feel safe here.

Judgments Redux

First an addendum, now a redux. Sorry.

In my defense, this was going to be part of Saturday’s “Judgments” post, but that post was getting way too long.

Judgments” ends this way:

“And so that’s it. I’m way, way beyond throwing stones at how anyone else treats autism.”

Which sounds pretty good, as if I’m all warm and fuzzy and “I’m okay, you’re okay.”

That last line, however, was carefully worded.

Here is a comment, written by an autism parent, in response to the CDC’s new estimate that one in 68 United States children is diagnosed with autism:

I’m kinda pleased…. When autism is more prevalent than ‘normalacy’ autism acceptance will be a whole lot easier! As you know, my son has high functioning autism and I don’t believe he needs to be changed or cured at all. Yeah, he sees the world differently, but different isn’t inherently wrong. I appreciate I can’t speak for all kids, but I love my very individual little boy just as he is 🙂

A mother in an on-line ASD-recovery group cross-posted that comment, from another group, with the identifying information removed.

Warning: I am about to be judgmental.

That “kinda pleased” comment is appalling.

I too “love my very individual little boy just as he is.” Indeed, I cannot conceive of anything Martin could do that would make me stop “loving him just has he is.” This extends even to moral culpability: If Martin recovers from autism, then grows up to be a serial killer, or a rapist, or a child abuser, I will be devastated, I will applaud when he is jailed for life, and I will seek help for his sociopathic tendencies. But I will still love him, even as he is.

Autism has no moral component, except perhaps insofar as manmade environmental factors are contributing to the rise in autism rates. In any event, Martin is not culpable. And if I am willing to get past intentional failings, how could autism ever make me reject “my very individual little boy just as he is”?

Loving a child is easy. Accepting a child is easy. As I have written time and again, there are days when I want to give up biomed, homeopathy, special diets, therapies, and everything else we do for Martin. At the lowest points, I want to say, “Martin has autism. I’m going to leave that as it is, and tell the world to accept autism.” I want to do so because that would be easy.

But I don’t. I don’t give up. My son does need to be cured. I would never say, “I don’t believe he needs to be changed or cured [of autism] at all,” any more than I would say, “We’re going to leave the multiple-personality disorder untreated. I love each of his personalities,” or, “Why eliminate psoriasis? I’m fighting for psoriasis acceptance instead.”

I’m way, way beyond throwing stones at how anyone else treats autism.

As for those who hide behind “acceptance” and “awareness,” who advocate “neurodiversity,” who stand by as autism takes over our children, who choose not to treat the condition at all—

For their approach, I have no patience.

I would never tell a parent who refuses to treat autism that she is selling her child short. Telling her that wouldn’t do anything to change her mind, and it might make her feel bad about herself. Instead, I try to lead by example. If asked, I respond that all kids are different, and that our family follows a special diet and biomedical protocol, and that Martin has made tremendous, if slow, improvement. I answer any questions honestly. I smile.

In my head, though, I’m thinking this:

I feel sorry for your child. Healing an immune system is hard work. Accepting autism is a lot more convenient. For you. Your child will have a more difficult life because you’ve chosen the passive path.

Stones be thrown.