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.

The S Word

Recently it has been suggested to us—and I’m not going to name any names here, not going to disclose who could have made such a detestable suggestion—that Martin might heal better if we were to move to the suburbs.

We are not suburban people. We are a city family. We pay top dollar for overcrowding, grime, shouting, car horns, and traffic. In exchange, we enjoy multi-ethnic and multi-generational neighbors, quality restaurants, every life necessity within a five-minute walk, the Met, museums, theaters, and a ZIP code where Wal-Mart is not welcome.

It’s not that I look down on my friends in the suburbs. They have vegetable gardens and swing sets and garages. Entire garages all to themselves! It’s like they own weekend houses for every day of the week. But it’s not for us.

Right now I do wish we owned a weekend house, some retreat somewhere. That might put an end to this “move to the suburbs” talk.

Alas, we don’t. We’ve never wanted anything more than our apartment, never felt we would even consider leaving the city.

Will we consider it now? Yes.

Would we actually move? That’s another question.

My initial reaction to the suburbs suggestion was no.  That’s it. That’s the line I will not cross. That’s the thing I will not do.

Yet haven’t I always said there is nothing I would not do to recover my son?

My second reaction to the suburbs suggestion was skepticism. How could that be necessary? Is the urban jungle so bad? I feel fine. Adrian feels fine. The parks are full of healthy kids.

Yet I am not blind. I’ve had my suspicions. I saw how well Martin did when we rented an isolated house in Maine this summer. Autism is now widely regarded as linked to an underlying immune disorder, and persons on the spectrum react poorly to radio frequencies, air pollution, electromagnetic fields, excessive stimuli. We have noisy, dirty construction sites on three sides of our building. Let’s face it: In a city-suburb face-off to produce the most air pollution and radio frequencies, the city would kick some suburb butt.

My third reaction to the suburbs suggestion was trepidation. What if we tried moving, and it helped? What if we had to stay in the suburbs? What if we—liked it?

That’s about when my angry, cynical side chimed in. The suburbs, with their chemical-laden golf courses and manicured lawns? The suburbs, where home lots abut power plants and electric lines? That will help Martin heal?

Adrian and I are wrestling now with the whole suburbs idea. Autism-warrior-me is wrestling with angry-cynical-me. We’re all exploring alternatives. A short-term relocation or other trial run. Making our apartment as safe as possible.

In some ways it comes down to identity. I identify myself as a city person. We’ve changed so much already. I’ve quit my job and given up most of my volunteer work to focus on Martin instead.

But I didn’t work my way through college and law school to become a suburban housewife.

Or did I?

A future in the suburbs for Martin?