Autism is treatable? More on ARI Conference at Las Vegas

As many autism activists know, there is a conference currently underway in Las Vegas (October 13-16). One of the main topics is that autism does not have to be a lifelong static disorder. Here are a few paragraphs from Market Watch:

As autism reaches epidemic proportions in the United States, science is challenging the traditional view of autism as a static, lifelong disorder. The Fall 2011 ARI Conference is a resource for parents, families, caregivers, educators, scientists, healthcare practitioners and other experts who will share information aimed at improving the quality of life for children and adults diagnosed with ASD, as well as that of their families.

‘ARI is committed to empowering the autism spectrum disorders (ASD) community with science-based solutions for treating autism,’ said Dr. Stephen M. Edelson, pioneer, researcher and director of the Autism Research Institute. ‘An appropriate medical approach, implementing dietary and lifestyle adjustments, is proven to have significant impact for many with ASD. In the context of a growing incidence of the disorder–and considering that the standard ASD treatment is pharmaceutical–favoring an encompassing medical approach cannot be overemphasized.'”

So, while the notion that some types of autism  spectrum disorders are treatable will no doubt be good news for many. For others, it could give false hope.  For example, my now 46 year-old son showed tremendous improvement in his 20s following a decade of behaviour modification and special diets, although his negative autism behaviours never completely disappeared — which explains why he was never able to keep a competitive job longer than a couple of weeks. However, in spite of being diagnosed with PDD-NOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorder), he is a very friendly and warm person by nature, although he still cannot be touched or hugged and his inability to perceive cause and effect has adversely affected his life, particularly when it comes to finances and understanding social cues.

Then, there is the hand flapping and hand biting. Not long ago he was watching a program on TV and got so excited that he wasn’t even aware that he was flapping one hand while biting the other. In fact, he bit the one hand so hard, he broke a front tooth, leaving only the root. Surgery was necessary to remove the root pieces of course, and we arranged for a partial. But, the hand biting was indicative that in his 40s, some of his earlier obsessive compulsive behaviours had returned.

However, the good news is that he is living independently with his wife (who has intellectual and physical disabilities) and with community supports they can cope. His wife is totally dependent on him (for grocery shopping, housework and taking her to medical appointments) and that seems to give him the stability he needs to go day-to-day. I still worry about when my husband and I are no longer here but are thankful that he now has a financial trustee and there is a dedicated community agency working with both of them.

In other words, while it is great news that some children and adults who have been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder can be helped with ongoing ABA treatment programs, exercise and vitamin regimes, it would be wrong to go back to the future — where the blame for autism-like behaviours is put on the parents — particularly the mother. Been there and experienced that in the late 1960s and know how very demoralizing that can be for all concerned.