Old Autism Tales

Recently, a very caring, observant and apparently well-read Mom who is “only interested in ‘natural’ therapies” for her moderate-to-severely affected 10 year-old son asked, “What about focalin?” Um, that’s not exactly a homeopathic remedy. Likewise, I spend a great deal of time counseling other parents about the safety of a particular therapy, as opposed to the terrible stories that they have encountered on the web. So, I have put together a list of my top autism tales… stories which appear and get quoted and re-quoted until they become issues for my practice, as far teaching families the truth, not made-up fairy tales.

10. When he/she gets hungry enough, the child will eat (a particular food, or enough food).  Neighbors, grandparents and other family members often offer this advice.  This is not true for autistic children. They will starve before they eat that crunchy (or mushy, or smelly, or whatever) stuff sitting on their plate. First, fix their autism, then we’ll get the picky diet worked out.

9. If you give melatonin, the brain won’t make any. There are lots of melatonin myths. I addressed them in a previous blog.

8. “I know that ‘x-y-z’ fact is true, because it was written by a doctor.” First, I have found that many of the stories that parents provide are not written by a doctor at all. If you are going to really consider a therapy for your child, especially an invasive one, you ought to get a sound scientific opinion. Just because doctors have been wrong about ASD, doesn’t mean everything that we say is incorrect. More importantly, the Internet is rife with misinformation that needs to be evaluated. In this blog, I try to be careful about my medical citations when I make an important point. As I have written in another blog, I may read all that I can about plumbing, but you don’t want me fixing your toilet.

7. “Sugary foods cause yeast in the gut.” I have a previous post about this one, also, but it bears repeating. Simple sugars are handled by insulin in the blood. Slightly more complex sugars like sucrose are broken down into simple sugars in the stomach with acid and water. Complex carbohydrates, undigested food and bad bacterial overgrowth are the problem, since the slow breakdown creates a substrate for fungal growth. Similarly, yeast in foods does not promote yeast, as long as the patient is not allergic to it and it gets digested. When you eat a mushroom, you won’t grow the fungus in your intestines.

6. “Children mainly seek the foods to which they are most allergic.” Although it often appears that way, it’s not necessarily true. Lots of children are quite allergic to stuff that they have never seen – like garlic or brewer’s yeast, for example. The point about autism is that the patient has become allergic to crazy things in the environment and so the body creates antibodies against foods to which they haven’t ever been exposed. The converse also appears to be true; as we improve the child’s general health, everything that they are sensitive to improves, including foods that they now consume in great quantities.

5. “The child is ‘stimming’ because of…” – anger, frustration, anxiety, fear, desire, happiness, etc. The reason that a patient ‘stims’ is because the hard wiring in their brain is not the same as in neuro-typical people. The affected child’s narrow range of expressive behaviors gets manifest as a repetitive movement that may or may not represent what they are truly feeling. I had one young man who ran screaming toward the TV when SpongeBob was on. “He’s afraid of SpongeBob,” explained the Mom. If he were really afraid of the cartoon character, why wasn’t he running away from the screen? One of our parents said that she thinks that her kid’s ‘stims’ occur “whenever he is bored. So I make him empty the dryer.” That sounds like a good idea.

4. “I don’t have to worry about my child escaping because… he’s never done it before… the doors are all secure… he would be afraid to leave… someone is always watching her.” Roughly half of children with ASD between the ages of 4 and 10 attempt to elope. This rate is nearly four times higher than for the children’s unaffected siblings. Of children with ASD who attempted to elope, ~1/2 succeeded, 2/3 had a close call with traffic and 1/3 had an issue with water safety.

3. “I know he can do that… (say “Daddy”, point to an object, behave properly) ’cause he does it when he wants to!” That’s what makes the child normal. As patients improve, they are able to perform tasks because they are getting better wiring and so the activity becomes second nature, instead of it being a major chore for the poor kid.

2. Homeopathic remedies won’t harm my child. There are plenty of chemicals in many non-FDA approved formulations. Just because you don’t need a prescription, it doesn’t mean that a) the stuff is safe or b) it will or won’t work. It would be preferable to do all of your care under the umbrella of a good, caring, competent doctor.

1. My doctor said that all of this biomedical is a bunch of hooey so that the DAN! doctors can make more money as they prey on helpless families. Parents of autistic children are left with a great deal of responsibility which requires research, treatment, therapy, trips to various specialists, loss of personal time, and tons of money. If the traditional medical community even did a half-decent job of listening and helping understand this epidemic, there wouldn’t be a cottage alternative medicine industry.

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Brian D. Udell MD
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