As I continue to study the emerging research, it has become increasingly clear to me that autism is a disorder related to the immune system. Most autistic children I know have several food allergies in addition to milk and wheat, and nearly all the parents in our group have or had at least one immune-related problem: thyroid disease, Crohn's disease, celiac disease, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, or allergies. Autistic children are probably genetically predisposed to immune-system abnormalities, but what triggers the actual disease?
Many of the parents swore that their child's autistic behavior began at 15 months, shortly after the child received the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine. When I examined such evidence as photos and videotapes to see exactly when Miles started to lose his language and social skills, I had to admit that it had coincided with his MMR -- after which he had gone to the emergency room with a temperature of 106°F and febrile seizures. Recently, a small study was published by British researcher Andrew Wakefield, M.D., linking the measles portion of the vaccine to damage in the small intestine -- which might help explain the mechanism by which the hallucinogenic peptides leak into the bloodstream. If the MMR vaccine is indeed found to play a role in triggering autism, we must find out whether some children are at higher risk and therefore should not be vaccinated or should be vaccinated at a later age. [EDITOR'S NOTE: The Lancet, the journal which published Dr. Wakefield's study, formally retracted it in February 2010. In May 2010, Britain's medical council stripped him of his medical license.]
Another new development is giving us hope: Researchers at Johnson and Johnson's Ortho Clinical Diagnostics division -- my husband among them -- are now studying the abnormal presence of peptides in the urine of autistic children. My hope is that eventually a routine diagnostic test will be developed to identify children with autism at a young age and that when some types of autism are recognized as a metabolic disorder, the gluten and dairy-free diet will move from the realm of alternative medicine into the mainstream.
The word autism, which once meant so little to me, has changed my life profoundly. It came to my house like a monstrous, uninvited guest but eventually brought its own gifts. I've felt twice blessed -- once by the amazing good fortune of reclaiming my child and again by being able to help other autistic children who had been written off by their doctors and mourned by their parents.
Adapted from the book Unraveling the Mystery of Autism and Pervasive Developmental Disorder: A Mother's Story of Research and Recovery, by Karyn Seroussi. Published by Simon & Schuster February 2000. Reprinted by permission of the author.
For more info, contact:
The Autism Network for Dietary Intervention (ANDI)
Publishes ANDI News, a newsletter containing recipes, research updates, and articles by parents and physicians.
The Autism Research Institute
Provides information about autism research and treatment, including alternative therapies. Organizes the annual DAN! (Defeat Autism Now!) Conference.
Reviewed and updated 2013.