What does your book offer that’s new?
The Autism Revolution provides a new framework for viewing autism as a whole-body condition that can change and get better, rather than a static, life-long genetic disorder of the brain. Much new science supports this approach. The book walks through the many levels of autism from biology to brain to behavior. Looking at autism this way offers many more paths for improving life for people with autism.
What do you think causes autism?
For the last decade, researchers have hunted for genes that cause autistic behaviors, but they still haven’t come close to explaining autism. I believe that’s because autism is more than a collection of genetic signals. Autism is the way the brain acts when it is faced with many challenges – some, but not all of which, are genetic. Other challenges may come from the immune system – perhaps from early infections, or possibly hidden immune problems during pregnancy. They may come from nutritional problems that prevent the child’s cells from receiving adequate energy and crucial nutrients. And they may come from environmental toxins and stress that interfere with the ability of the body and brain to function well. In The Autism Revolution, I explain how a cascade of challenges can cause autism, and how addressing these challenges can make a profound difference in the condition, maybe even turning it around.
What kind of treatment do you suggest?
I suggest doing lots of what helps and avoiding what hurts – at every level. Take away stressors like junk food, toxins, noise and chaos – and provide high quality supports like fresh high-nutrient food, sensory-friendly environments and patience. Even little things can matter. Take seriously the physical problems that often accompany autism – seizures, digestive troubles, sleep issues, allergies, hypersensitivity, and much more – they are not a “lifelong part of the autism,” but are the body’s way of calling for help. Many have found that getting these physical problems more under control leads the symptoms of autism to fade. In The Autism Revolution I present solid scientific support for practical, sensible, low-risk advice. My goal is to help each family feel confident that they are leaving no stone unturned while protecting their child from “cures” that are worse than the problem they intended to address.
There’s a lot of debate about whether genes or the environment cause autism. Do you think it’s one or the other?
No. As I write in The Autism Revolution, I think it’s interplay between both genes and environment that causes autism. This actually offers hope. For people who believe that genes are the main cause of autism, it’s hard to believe there’s much you can do about it. But science is telling us that the environment contributes, and we see people getting better right now. This makes it the top priority to get rid of environmental triggers, improve health, and offer the right supports for each child. People don’t have to wait for science to discover fixes for “broken genes,” but can make major gains right now with knowledge we already have.
Why do some parents of kids with autism think vaccines caused it? Could they be right?
As I write in The Autism Revolution, population studies have not shown that vaccines cause autism. Some parents observe that their child seemed to become autistic after a vaccination. There are also children with autism who have never been vaccinated. Still other children have become autistic after they’ve had other stresses, like an illness or a trauma. My focus is on the underlying vulnerabilities. The Autism Revolution explains how to keep children strong and resilient so they can handle life’s challenges to their health and immune systems without any problems.
Why do some kids get better while others do not?
Two reasons – first, there are many kinds of autism, and some are easier to help than others. Second, the best combination of treatments can be challenging to identify. I can’t promise that following the commonsense advice in The Autism Revolution will help every child get completely better. But taking a fresh view of autism may help explain why other approaches haven’t worked so far, and give parents news insights and energy for the road ahead.
What about the people who say that autism is just a different way of seeing the world and not a disability? Are they right?
I don’t think it’s an either-or. Only 15 percent of adults with autism are employed. That makes for dependency, lack of options and anxiety. Those unemployed people may have a different way of looking at their world but their choices are curtailed. If they can get over unnecessary physical illnesses, live in a sensory-friendly environment, and be with people who appreciate who they are, they will feel better – and probably have more employment options.
You write several times in the book about gaps in our knowledge about autism. What kind of research is most needed? Why isn’t it being done?
Right now, some children seem able to “grow out” of at least some aspects of their autism, while others make very little progress. We don’t understand yet why this happens, and how to make more progress more reliably. I think we should do a high-tech, intensive investigation of these children who get better, not only what makes them different from other kids who don’t, but also step-by-step tracking of how they get better, starting from when treatments begins. What happens in their brains? Their GI systems? Their immune systems? How they communicate and interact? I think this is the way we can “reverse-engineer autism.” This may be our best shot at figuring how autism works and how to help.
You offer a number of tips for would-be parents to help prevent autism. Can autism really be prevented?
I honestly think that in many cases we can prevent autism. The earlier you start, the better (though it’s never too late to bring about meaningful improvements in the quality of life). New research suggests vitamins taken before pregnancy can make a difference. We know that a mother’s immune challenges can affect her baby. I believe taking a whole-body approach to eating well, reducing stress, and avoiding toxins and immune problems can help prevent autism or reduce its severity. I have plans on the drawing boards to test this hypothesis.
Most doctors dismiss biomedical treatments as a waste of time and money. Why do you think differently, advocating many of them in The Autism Revolution?
“Biomedical treatments” include a wide variety of things, many of which are simple, low-risk and sensible. Much of “biomed” is part of healthy lifestyle change that any physician could be comfortable with offering, such as eating fresh and healthy food, getting vigorous exercise, reducing stress, having a regular sleep schedule and avoiding toxic exposures.
What inspired you to focus on autism?
As I write in The Autism Revolution, I got interested in autism because it was so different than what I’d been taught to expect, and so much more commonplace. Instead of being a thoroughly intractable, disabling disorder, I saw children grow, change and accomplish extraordinary things. It worked its way into my heart, my mind, my science and my whole life. I now see autism as an incredible challenge, a precious opportunity, and a case study that teaches us so much about what our whole world needs right now.