The Age of Autism: March of the experts
Aug 17, 2005, 21:49 GMT
WASHINGTON, DC, United States (UPI) -- The news that
the first child diagnosed with autism got better after
medical treatment -- while leading experts didn`t make
the connection -- suggests how research and reality
have been distorted for decades.
As The Age of Autism reported Monday, the child known
as Case 1 is alive and doing remarkably well in the
same small Mississippi town he grew up in. Although we
didn`t talk directly to "Donald T.," his brother told
us that he had a "miraculous response" to gold salts
treatment at the age of 12.
It cleared up a devastating case of juvenile arthritis
and -- astonishingly -- made a marked difference in
Donald`s autism, he said.
"When he was finally released, the nervous condition
he was formerly afflicted with was gone," his brother
said of the two- to three-month gold salts treatment
"The proclivity to excitability and extreme
nervousness had all but cleared up, and after that he
went to school and had one more little flare-up (of
arthritis) when in junior college." He also became
"more sociable," his brother said, and was invited to
join a college fraternity.
That was 58 years ago, yet we`re not aware of any
mention in the millions of words written about autism
that this very first case may have gotten better
following a novel medical treatment.
Instead, today`s mainstream medical experts dismiss
the idea of biomedical interventions such as
anti-inflammation and detoxification therapies as
dangerous hooey perpetrated by quacks and charlatans.
Yet the treatment Donald got was patently biomedical:
Medicine prescribed by a doctor to treat a physical
illness appears to have had a positive effect on his
The official hostility to such approaches is currently
so great that the only research under way on the topic
is funded by parents. An official at the National
Institutes of Mental Health told The New York Times
last month that it "isn`t responsible" to prescribe
chelation, which is designed to eliminate heavy metals
from children with autism.
Yet dozens of parents -- and, for that matter, dozens
of doctors outside the mainstream treatment community
-- say the treatments have made huge improvements.
Some of them have banded together at
generationrescue.org; they argue that autism is
mercury poisoning (primarily from a preservative that
was used in vaccines) and that getting the mercury out
has cured some children of autism and vastly improved
the condition of others.
Other doctors, many of them connected with Defeat
Autism Now!, a project of the Autism Research
Institute, are using everything from special diets to
B vitamins to folinic acid. They cite similar
successes, and many parents agree.
These parents and doctors get the modern equivalent of
what awaited the parents of early autistic children --
skepticism and scorn.
In the beginning, there was strong suspicion -- in
many quarters, certainty -- that bad parenting caused
autism. This came in part from the striking fact that
so many of the parents of those early cases were
successful, affluent, career-oriented professionals.
Even more suspiciously, many of the mothers had
college degrees and -- alert the mental-health
authorities! -- their own careers.
"One other fact stands out prominently," wrote Leo
Kanner, the child psychiatrist who first identified
autism, beginning with D onaldT.,inhislandmark1943BR paper on the disorder. "In the whole group, there are
very few really warmhearted fathers and mothers. ...
The question arises whether or to what extent this
fact has contributed to the condition of the
While Kanner also noted that the children appeared to
have been autistic from birth -- and thus the parents`
personalities could not entirely explain their
children`s disorder -- it set the stage for a tragic
morality play over the next several decades.
The worst was Bruno Bettelheim, who wrote in "The
Empty Fortress" in 1967: "I believe the initial cause
of withdrawal is rather the child`s correct
interpretation of the negative emotions with which the
most significant figures in his environment approach
him. ... The tragedy of children fated to become
autistic is that such a view of the world happens to
be correct for their world."
We couldn`t help thinking of all that when Donald`s
brother told us Kanner suggested "the best thing that
could happen" would be to place Donald with another
family -- a childless farm couple. The parents
complied, but it was only after the juvenile-arthritis
attack four years later, and the subsequent gold-salts
treatment, that Donald dramatically improved.
Yet Kanner attributed the change to "the intuitive
wisdom of a tenant farmer couple, who knew how to make
him utilize his futile preoccupations for practical
purposes and at the same time helped him to maintain
contact with his family."
It wasn`t until Bernard Rimland wrote Infantile Autism
in 1964 that the idea of the "refrigerator mother"
began to change -- slowly.
What makes Donald`s case all the more interesting is
that none of the specialists his family took him to --
including the Mayo Clinic -- could identify the cause
of his uncontrollable fever and joint pain when he was
12, his brother said. It wasn`t until Donald`s father
happened to mention the affliction to a practicing
physician in a nearby small town that juvenile
arthritis, a rare autoimmune disorder, was identified.
Here is how one of our correspondents summarized this
1. The world expert (Kanner) was incompetent with
respect to medical assessment of illness.
2. He assumed that they needed to get Donald away from
his parents. They really did think it was a parental
abuse problem back then.
3. Kanner mistakenly attributed Donald`s progress to
the "therapist" when it was really the medicine.
4. Recovery is possible with biomedical treatment.
5. Biomedical treatment ideas are not likely to come
from the autism experts (Kanner) or the prestigious
clinics (Mayo). They come from real medical doctors
who know how to recognize real illness and
autoimmunity in the kids.
Contrast that analysis with the standard dismissals
when parents claim biomedical treatments have helped:
-- They may be indulging in wishful thinking --
wanting their child to improve so badly that they
-- They may have tried another treatment such as
behavior therapy that is actually responsible;
-- Their child may not have been very autistic in the
Does anyone think Donald T., the first child diagnosed
with autism, was not very autistic in the first place?
Surely, Donald`s family was not "imagining" his
improvement, since they weren`t even trying to treat
Of course, that intuitive, wise, childless farm couple
may have made all the difference -- that is, if you
think autism is caused by unwise, non-intuitive
mothers and fathers (bad parents).
We don`t know what to make of Donald`s evident
improvement -- and the fact that it has stayed buried
for so long even as parents and researchers
frantically turn over every stone to uncover
treatments for this burgeoning, awful disorder.
We acknowledge we have not met Donald and are unable
to vouch for his brother`s account, although we
certainly found him credible and convincing.
But it does make us wonder whether much has changed.
These days, parents aren`t condemned for having
autistic children -- just for doing something about it
without the permission of experts who are certain
nothing can be done.
In upcoming columns we`ll look at the implications of