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Just a plain, ordinary, loving, proud parent

I started writing about autism, specifically about being an autism parent, just over three years ago. One of my goals was to provide information that would be useful for parents who have recently received a diagnosis of autism for their child. This post is my attempt to give you, as a parent of a newly diagnosed autistic child, an idea of what you will likely find as you try to understand what that diagnosis means to you and your child.

Parenting is a challenge, no matter who your kid is. No matter what you do, someone somewhere will tell you that you are doing it wrong. If you are already a parent, you know what I mean. How many times have you heard someone tell you that your kids should spend more time outside, less time on the computer or with their video games, more time reading, less time on the phone; that you should spend more / less time with them, give them more / less independence, etc etc.

It is no different being the parent of an autistic child, except maybe for the passion with which complete strangers will tell you how poor a job you are doing. A few things you can expect to hear from others, or read in blogs, etc:

“You’re going to screw your kid up if you get him vaccinated.”
“You didn’t vaccinate? Why the hell not?”

“If you don’t start with intensive early therapy and treatment, there is no hope for your child.”
“If you start with all that intensive early therapy and treatment and try to change him, he’ll be emotionally scarred for life.”

“Why are you trying to mainstream him at school, he would be better off in a special placement.”
“Why aren’t you pushing for a mainstream placement, that is where he should be and the school just needs to suck it up.”

“You can’t blame that person for getting upset, that outburst was quite disturbing and invasive to others.”
“Screw that person. They need to just get over it an realize that everyone is different and has the right to be who they are.”

“You need to cure your child of this terrible affliction, recover him from the damage that has been done and get on with your life the way it was supposed to be.”
“Your child doesn’t need a cure, you need to accept that he will be different, that your life will be different, and that you need to just get on with it.”

These are, of course, examples from the extremes. But you will quickly find that there is not, in general, a lot of middle ground in terms of how people will judge you.

In your readings and explorations of autism, you will find that there is no known cause, and that some people think that vaccines are the cause. Some will even say that there is no cause (or least no need to find a cause). Those who think it was caused by vaccines will try to convince you that you need to cure your child through diet or other types of medical procedures, some will say you need intensive behavior therapy. Some will tell you there is no need for a cure. These are all things you will have to decide for yourself.

As you learn more about autism, you will also find yourself learning more about autism advocacy and all the forms it takes. There are groups of parents, medical professionals, and others that will tell you your child has been poisoned by vaccines and that you need to cure – sometimes referred to as recovery – him through diet or other medical treatment. There are those that will tell you that you need to cure your child through intensive behavior therapy. Many, though not all, of these advocates will also help you understand the accommodations and supports that you will need and are entitled to. Then of course there are all of the organizations that have formed to promote these various forms of advocacy. Importantly, the vast majority of these advocates are not autistic themselves.

Once you realize this, you will discover a separate world of autistic advocates for autism. You will quickly find that, despite the stereotypes, all autistics are not the same. You will hear that your child wasn’t poisoned by vaccines, or anything else, and that there is no need for a cure. You may also hear or read that some autistics do want to be cured. You will get plenty of advice – some good, some not so good – about how to raise you child from the perspective of someone who used to be an autistic child. You will hear from autistics diagnosed as adults, and learn what their life was like as an autistic child without the benefit / burden of a diagnosis.

About two months ago, autism blogger Lisa Jo Rudy challenged parents to “quit autism for just one day.”

Your child with autism may always be autistic, but there are places and circumstances in which it either doesn’t matter – or in which your child’s special talents make autism irrelevant. Whether it’s at the beach, in the woods, at a concert, or creating a work of art – just for one day – go somewhere where autism doesn’t matter.

Just for one day, quit being the parent of a child with autism. And become just a plain, ordinary, loving, proud parent.

Everything I’ve learned about parenting an autistic child can be boiled down to an incredibly simply stated idea (provided to me by a fellow autism dad): Parenting is parenting. My response to Lisa’ challenge reflects this attitude:

Just one day? Every day should be like that. At the very least, every day should start like that. You can’t always control how a day will end up, but only you can control how your day starts.

I am the parent of a trampolinist. I am the parent of a horse-back rider (equestrian?) I am the parent of two pianists. I am the parent of two high school students. I am the parent of two avid gamers. I am the parent of an autistic son and an NT son.

I am, to use your words, “just a plain, ordinary, loving, proud parent.”

Every day.

Everyone will have something to say about how you raise your autistic child, most everyone will judge you in one way or another. In the end, of course, the only person’s judgment of you as a parent that matters is your child’s. All you can do is be a plain, ordinary, loving, proud parent. Everything else is just details.

The Autoimmune Epidemic

While wandering the aisles in the local Borders book store, I saw Donna Nakazawa‘s new book, The Autoimmune Epidemic: Bodies Gone Haywire in a World out of Balance and the Cutting Edge Science that Promises Hope. This description is from the book’s official site:

Multiple sclerosis, lupus, Type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and nearly a hundred other chronic autoimmune illnesses are part of this devastating epidemic, in which the human body, acting on misread signals, literally begins to destroy itself. Alarmingly, the occurrence of many of these diseases has more than doubled in the last three decades, signaling a disturbing trend that can be directly tied to environmental factors in everyday modern life—including our daily exposure to a dizzying array of toxic chemicals.

With the conversation around a recent post fresh in my mind, I was drawn to the book to see what the author had to say about autism in the context of this autoimmune epidemic. There is one section, consisting of two pages, where she mentions the possible relationship of autoimmune issues, vaccines, and heavy metals (specifically mercury in the form of thimerosol) to autism. I don’t recall the specific wording, but she basically left it as, “We’ll have to wait and see what comes of the research.”

Has anyone had a chance to read this book yet? Any thoughts?

Canaries in the coal mine

If you ask Dr. Bryan Jepson he will tell you why he thinks the “new” autism is different from the “old”. As a medical doctor (now a Director of Medical Services) and parent of a young autistic son, Jepson has been doing some research lately and has come up with some (not always so) new ideas. Here are some excerpts from a story in the Deseret News (Utah) about Jepson and his new book Changing the Course of Autism: A Scientific Approach for Parents and Physicians:

Soon he was convinced that autism is a complex metabolic disease that has as much to do with the gut as it does with the brain.

It’s an epidemic, he says, “and there’s no such thing as a genetic epidemic.”

At the same time, the “new autism” is less likely to show up within the first six months or year of a baby’s life, and is much more likely to be “regressive,” showing up at 18 months to 3 years to rob the child of previous skills — sometimes almost overnight, sometimes as a gradual decline.

There’s a genetic susceptibility for autism. But something else has to explain the sudden rise in numbers — and it’s not simply a matter of better diagnosis or a broader definition of what autism means, he says.

The answer appears to have something to do with the increased toxicity of the environment, he says, from food additives to vaccines and antibiotics. Children who are born with a genetic susceptibility for autism have trouble detoxifying, he says.

The increase in other chronic diseases such as asthma is evidence that autistic children may also be proof of what’s to come, he says. “It’s kind of like the canary in the coal mine.” (my emphasis)

I know a lot of parents have turned to diet as a treatment for autism, but I don’t know how many of them take it as far as Jepson does:

Calling autism a behavioral disorder, says Jepson, is like calling a tumor a headache. Instead, he says, autism is just one symptom of a disease process that affects the digestive, immune and neurological systems.

The majority of children with autism have gastrointestinal problems, sometimes causing severe pain. Their tantrums and head banging may be a manifestation of pain they can’t articulate, Jepson says. If the gut disease is treated — with diet, nutritional supplements and medication — that behavior goes away.

The benefits of changing diet and the question of whether stomach issues are a cause of autism or simply a co-morbidity have been discussed ad nauseum over the past several years in the blogosphere, as well as other books addressing. The reviewers on Amazon seem to love it (7 reviewers, average rating of 5 stars), but I wonder if they really found it that good or if it was just something that justified an opinion they already had.

I’d be interested to know (without having to read it, my list is already too long), if this book brings anything truly new to the debate. (Aside, of course, from the obvious belief that autism is a symptom of something else and not a condition of its own.)