April 6, 2015
It’s April…Be Aware of Autism
By Michael D. Shaw
April 2nd as World Autism Awareness Day was inaugurated by a UN Resolution (62/139), adopted by the General Assembly on December 18, 2007. This soon transformed into Autism Awareness Month, which spawned Autism Acceptance Month in 2011 (more on that later). No doubt, a condition affecting approximately 1 in 68 children in the US (according to the CDC) is worthy of a month’s recognition. Compare that figure to the 1 in 150 rate, reported in 2000.
In keeping with the proclamation, let us become aware, and try not to get smothered by the semantics…
The term “autism” was first used in 1911 by Swiss psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler, who presumably invoked the Greek autos, meaning “self.” Bleuler was describing the behavior of many schizophrenics, withdrawing into their own inner world. But it was the brilliant Dr. Leo Kanner, founder of child psychiatry, later assisted by Dr. Leon Eisenberg, who would produce the definitive works on this disease.
In a 1956 paper entitled “Early Infantile Autism 1943–1955,” Kanner and Eisenberg distilled the former’s five diagnostic criteria down to these two features, whereby the typical clinical picture would reliably present…
1. A profound lack of affective contact
2. Repetitive, ritualistic behavior, which must be of an elaborate kind
At the time, it was noted that this condition might be observed in one to two children per 10,000. Moreover, one of Kanner’s original criteria was “A fascination for objects, which are handled with skill in fine motor movements.” Thus, we have a big problem from the get-go. Contrary to Kanner’s precepts, most of today’s “autistic” kids are affectionate, and have lost gross or fine motor skills.
Also, contrary to at least the spirit of Kanner’s work, today’s autism comprises an entire “spectrum” of symptoms and severity of symptoms, such that Bill Gates, Jerry Seinfeld, and Mark Zuckerberg have been put “on the spectrum” by some commentators.
More than that, Kanner’s autism was clearly a developmental disorder–essentially incurable (as in “not possible to restore to health, soundness, or normality”). Regrettably, even the word “cure,” as applied to any condition more severe than a mild infectious disease, has fallen out of favor. No one is ever cured of cancer; rather they are “in remission.” For other serious diseases, the best outcome is “symptom-free.”
So, can someone diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder–as it is now usually called–ever become symptom-free? An article from February, 2013 in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, entitled “Optimal Outcome in Individuals with a History of Autism,” suggests that they can. Several other studies confirm this viewpoint.
But, wait. Since when can someone with a mental developmental disorder became symptom-free? For that matter, how can there be an “epidemic” of autism? Never in history has there been an epidemic of a developmental or genetic disorder. How could there be? To be sure, there have been countless epidemics of organic medical diseases.
That’s why a growing group of physicians, led by Michael J. Goldberg, MD, insist that today’s “autism” is not a psychological or developmental disorder, but is a medical disease. While the current condition does mimic certain symptoms of classical Kanner autism, this group holds that the disease is caused by a dysfunction in the neuro-immune system, often related to secondary neurotropic viruses that impact the neuro-immune system and brain. And, they have the symptom-free patients, who went through a protocol based on this etiology, to prove it.
As with any dreaded disease, there are dozens of autism organizations extant, supposedly intended to help victims and their caregivers. Yet, in virtually all cases, they promote the specter of incurability, as well as all sorts of dubious and expensive therapies. Worse, certain of these organizations tout ridiculous conspiracy theories, and attempt to resurrect ghouls like Andrew Wakefield.
Then, there’s the bizarre notion of “autism acceptance.” According to one proponent, “People may be ‘aware’ of autism, but may not be ‘accepting’ of Autistic people for who they are (hence, assuming the need to ‘cure’ them).” The self-parody here is striking:
I want my autism–don’t save me from it! There is no need for a cure for autism. We stopped trying to cure sexual identity and other things that identify a person. I realize a lot of people hate me because I am so much smarter. Whether it is at math, playing chess, computer programming, I am obviously superior to neurotypicals.
Kanner must be spinning in his grave. A debilitating disorder has morphed into a “spectrum” encompassing mentally superior individuals. Full marks for readers who note a similarity to “diabetes” encompassing everyone with even the mildest hyperglycemia.
Let’s hear from Dr. Goldberg…
This should not be an “acceptance” day–rather a stand up and fight back day for your children. If you understand this is not developmental, that this is a disease, and not an unchangeable developmental disorder, then the best thing you can do to improve a child’s quality of life is to fight this illness.
Why should we stop fighting for that quality of life for every child? Acceptance of remediable dysfunction should never be our answer to this.