Susan's Blog

Monday, December 26, 2005

A New Spectrum Disorder?

It is no secret that I do not take sides in The Autism Debates. This is because I know and love so many people on both sides, and I am a Libran, so I see worthy points in both of their arguments.

Today I was thinking more about the side in favor of biomedical inteventions because I heard from a reader who was so enthusiastic about how the DAN! protocol “worked” for her son, in that it helped his functioning and communication levels. It dawned on me that I should blog what I was thinking: that there might be many conditions out there being called “autism” but that are possibly something else that just manifests as autism.

We are all aware that there are many more kids with allergies today than there used to be. Unlike autism, it is much easier to diagnose an allergy. No one can claim that the rise in allergies is about better diagnosing, because most of the time having an allergy is a clear-cut thing, where you get some adverse reaction that is pretty straightforward and unmistakable anaphylaxis or something like that.

Or so we think. What if there were something called “Allergy Spectrum Disorder,” where you have a much larger spectrum of allergic response, from sneezing at pollen all the way up to autistic-like symptoms from eating gluten? I think that this is the ASD that some parents are looking at, frankly, and not the ASD my son was born with. It is hard to ignore the scores of “success stories,” where you hear of a kid becoming so much more verbal within a few weeks of discontinuing gluten and casein. There must be some explanation for that.

I think there are three possible explanations: 1) The diet helped the child’s allergic symptoms; or 2) The child was improving on his own and had a burst of development that coincided with the use of the diet; or 3) The child has not improved much, really, but the parents are so happy and relieved to be taking action that they feel differently and see things differently, and see their child with new, positive eyes.

Any of the above are happy occurrences, when you think about it. The problem comes when one side wants to make a claim that would become a generalization for all kids. Once the biomedical side claims that all autism is is a form of environmental poisoning for all autistic kids, and that we all should act now to obliterate autism, that is when the the trouble starts. Once the autistic-rights side claims that there is no way to address autistic-like symptoms with biomedical interventions, and that we should stop trying to find a cure for autism because that is an insult to all autistics, that is when the trouble starts.

Parents must find the right balance between trying to improve/alter their child and trying to give him the skills to have his best shot at life. Society must find the right balance between trying to include and accept people with disabilities and differences, and trying to ameliorate the conditions that cause disorders (cure them). These are tall orders for a human race that is all too human and racist to begin with…

Maybe what we should be looking to understand is HSD: Human Spectrum Disorder.


Hi Susan,

I am so happy you brought this up. I totally agree with you when you mention “Allergy Spectrum Disorder.” I really do believe many many children are being diagnosed with Autism when actually it could be something else like allergies to food or perhaps A.P.D. I have thought about it a million times over and I am SO skeptical when I hear of “recovered Autistic children.” Were they really Autistic or just misdiagnosed? I have a child who is Autistic and to be honest with all the therapy in the world I cannot see him “recovering.”
That’s just my opinion. 🙂

— added by KCsMom on Monday, December 26, 2005 at 2:14 pm

Sjeesh, Susan. I have been thinking very similar things lately. For full disclosure, I am a big believer in biomed, as it has made a huge difference in the physical ailments my son is dealing with (and yes, my son has autism in addition to these physical ailments – in his case, they are related).

Attached is something I wrote in an e-mail a couple of days before the Christmas holiday.

“As to autism and susceptibility to the physical ailments we tend to see in this population. I just don’t know if autistic kids are more susceptible to these issues, or is it that because they have these other issues, their brain development is altered and then they become autistic? The good ole’ chicken and the egg problem…

What if what we currently diagnose as autism isn’t really autism but a set of very complex metabolic/endocrine/immune system (maybe even mitochondrial) abnormalities triggered by environmental factors that results in symptoms that ‘look like, smell like’ autism, but aren’t really autism? That could potentially explain the shocking ‘recovery’ that is seen in some of these kids… I think that either Sid Baker or one of the other founders of DAN (it wasn’t Bernie Rimland, I’m sure of that) said during the last DAN here in Boston that the kids they see that are their most inspiring success stories probably never were ‘autistic’ to begin with, but had other underlying disorders or abnormalities that resulted in a presentation that ‘parallelled’ autism.”

— added by Zs mom on Tuesday, December 27, 2005 at 1:15 pm