Please Stop Trying to “Treat” Autism…And Do This Instead
Autism may not be what you think it is, and autistic people might need something different than what is being done.
I am a doctor who practices integrative medicine.
I’m also on the autism spectrum.
In progressive, inclusive medicine circles, the name Dr Mark Hyman is very familiar and respected. He has also been one of my own role models. Indeed, he’s quite knowledgeable, and most of what he says is spot-on.
Recently, I wanted to see what he had to say about autism. Naturally, I googled “mark hyman autism” and I came upon one of his articles on autism.
His article claims that:
- The medical community has it wrong (he’s right about that)
- Genetics are not involved
- Some of his pediatric patients have recovered/overcome their autism, by healing their gut, balancing their immune system, eliminating problem foods, and removing heavy metals, etc.
I say: Bullshit.
A little background: Epigenetics is the concept of the interface between our genes and our environment. Environmental stimuli have the ability to turn certain genes on or off.
Examples of positive epigenetic stimuli include good nutrition, sunlight, and a calm, enriched, supportive environment.
Examples of negative epigenetic stimuli include toxins, infections, poor diet/malnutrition, and stress.
For more information on the subject of epigenetics, Bruce Lipton is an excellent resource!
As with most variants, there are positive and negative aspects. Many of us feel the negative more acutely and obviously: no one understands us, social awkwardness, clumsiness, forgetfulness, and anxiety or depression.
But there are positive aspects, too. Abilities to hyper-focus on special interests, saying what we mean without playing mind-games, average or even higher than average IQs, deep complex emotions, and a different way of looking at the world are just a few examples.
Autistic people will always be autistic.
It’s a falsehood and a scam for anyone to claim otherwise, and worse yet, it’s almost a proverbial slap in an autistic person’s face to attempt to pathologize our status and attempt to make us “more normal”, which is perceived as an “improvement”.
Autism isn’t black and white
We have plenty of uniqueness to offer the world. We’re all very different from each other, with quirks and unusual interests. We’re often self-taught and extremely knowledgeable. We’re often refreshingly honest, even if that’s misperceived as rudeness (we don’t mean to be!). We have genuine kindness inside and a genuine desire to connect with others. We’re hard workers and usually uber-ethical, tending to avoid the chit-chat and “deep dive in” to a task at hand.
I truly feel that my spot on the autism spectrum gives me an advantage; it probably makes me better at what I do than I otherwise would be if I were not autistic.
But on some days, my autism-ness does get in the way. My blood sugar might dip too low. I might be fatigued, overstimulated, or otherwise stressed out.
When that happens, I don’t always have the energy or attention span to camouflage with my environment. I may be missing my “word filter” that clarifies and softens responses to others I make during communication, and I may come across as brash or blunt. I may fidget more, which may annoy others.
Someone observing me might have seen the outward effects of my spectrum-ness as “something wrong” and I might have been treated as disabled, the “treatment” for which might have left me even worse off.
The “What-If” Game
What would have happened if my parents or myself had turned to and listened to Dr Hyman for “help” with my autism? I see two possibilities:
- I might have been convinced that Functional Medicine could “cure” or “resolve” my autism, and when it turns out that it’s a permanent status for which there is no “cure”, I would have been disillusioned, seeing Functional Medicine as non-infallible. I might have even lost my faith in this 21st-century medical paradigm that has given so many people their lives back. Or…
- By some “miracle”, let’s say Functional Medicine could have made me “normal”. I would cease to be the doctor I am. I would have lost all the gifts that make me so well-suited for my line of work. I might even be okay with being a mediocre doctor.
Neither one of those scenarios is good, for my patients or myself. In fact, that would suck.
The Functional Medicine doctors writing their autism-curing rhetoric do have good intentions. What they have to say misinformed rhetoric, but it’s well-intentioned just the same.
The purity of their intentions, however, does not make their philosophy or their assertions correct, realistic, or acceptable.
A potential solution…
I challenge Functional Medicine doctors (and indeed, all doctors) see autism for what the research is starting to say that it is: a neurological variant (not in itself a disorder), with positive or negative epigenetic stimuli. And then begin to support the unique epigenetics with positive stimuli so that we Aspies/autistics can function better, with less disability. The negative traits could subside and pose less of a burden, allowing the positive traits and gifts to come to the forefront and flourish.
Doctors, let’s treat people on the spectrum like we would treat anyone else: if they have anxiety, help them with that; if they have digestive problems, help them with those. If they’re lacking energy, address that. And so on.
How should doctors “treat” autism? Like any other human being, of course.
- Allow all patients to be themselves, without judgment…
- Ask the same questions to determine the same symptoms…
- Run the same functional testing…
- Personalize a health recovery plan…
- Treat the whole person…
- Meet and love them where they are…
- Give them the same thorough information and explanations…
…Like they would (and should) for all people.
Many people, both on and off the spectrum, have gluten reactivity/intolerance problems. Many people have neurotransmitter imbalances. Many people have issues with methylation and transsulfuration. Many people, even in developed nations, have extreme deficiencies of certain nutrients. I’ve personally observed these problems in an alarming percentage of the population, whether or not they are part of the autism spectrum. Indeed, eradicating these issues can not only resolve a wide variety of symptoms, but also improve the quality of life for anyone with these issues.
A good doctor will see the potential in each unique patient. A good doctor will evaluate each person consistently across the board, identify any underlying issues, and create a personalized recovery plan.
The best doctors (unfortunately an infinitesimal group) will do not only what the good doctors do, but they’ll go a step further. They’ll look beyond the autism status, and see, value, and treat the whole person. If our autism status doesn’t necessarily have to hold us back, then it shouldn’t hold them back, either.
From my perspective, autism itself is not a pathology. It is not wrong. It is not a sickness. It does not need “fixing”.
Like all humans, we simply require understanding, compassion, and support.