What happened next was nothing short of miraculous. Miles stopped screaming, he didn't spend as much time repeating actions, and by the end of the first week, he pulled on my hand when he wanted to go downstairs. For the first time in months, he let his sister hold his hands to sing "Ring Around a Rosy."
Two weeks later, a month after we'd seen the psychologist, my husband and I kept our appointment with a well-known developmental pediatrician to confirm the diagnosis of autism. Dr. Susan Hyman gave Miles a variety of tests and asked a lot of questions. We described the changes in his behavior since he'd stopped eating dairy products. Finally, Dr. Hyman looked at us sadly. "I'm sorry," the specialist said. "Your son is autistic. I admit the milk allergy issue is interesting, but I just don't think it could be responsible for Miles' autism or his recent improvement."
We were terribly disheartened, but as each day passed, Miles continued to get better. A week later, when I pulled him up to sit on my lap, we made eye contact and he smiled. I started to cry -- at last he seemed to know who I was. He had been oblivious to his sister, but now he watched her play and even got angry when she took things away from him. Miles slept more soundly, but his diarrhea persisted. Although he wasn't even 2 yet, we put him in a special-ed nursery school three mornings a week and started an intensive one-on-one behavioral and language program that Dr. Hyman approved of.
I'm a natural skeptic and my husband is a research scientist, so we decided to test the hypothesis that milk affected Miles' behavior. We gave him a couple of glasses one morning, and by the end of the day, he was walking on his toes, dragging his forehead across the floor, making strange sounds, and exhibiting the other bizarre behaviors we had almost forgotten. A few weeks later, the behaviors briefly returned, and we found out that Miles had eaten some cheese at nursery school. We became completely convinced that dairy products were somehow related to his autism.
I wanted Dr. Hyman to see how well Miles was doing, so I sent her a video of him playing with his father and sister. She called right away. "I'm simply floored," she told me. "Miles has improved remarkably. Karyn, if I hadn't diagnosed him myself, I wouldn't have believed that he was the same child."
I had to find out whether other kids had had similar experiences. I bought a modem for my computer -- not standard in 1995 -- and discovered an autism support group on the Internet. A bit embarrassed, I asked, "Could my child's autism be related to milk?"
The response was overwhelming. Where had I been? Didn't I know about Karl Reichelt in Norway? Didn't I know about Paul Shattock in England? These researchers had preliminary evidence to validate what parents had been reporting for almost 20 years: Dairy products exacerbated the symptoms of autism.
My husband, who has a Ph.D. in chemistry, got copies of the journal articles that the parents had mentioned on-line and went through them all carefully. As he explained it to me, it was theorized that a subtype of children with autism break down milk protein (casein) into peptides that affect the brain in the same way that hallucinogenic drugs do. A handful of scientists, some of whom were parents of kids with autism, had discovered compounds containing opiates -- a class of substances including opium and heroin -- in the urine of autistic children. The researchers theorized that either these children were missing an enzyme that normally breaks down the peptides into a digestible form, or the peptides were somehow leaking into the bloodstream before they could be digested.