Defeating Autism: A Damaging Delusion

7 Nov

Dr Mike Fitzpatrick’s new book ‘Defeating Autism: A Damaging Delusion‘ is now available (Amazon: UK, US, Canada). Just as I did for Paul Offit’s Autism’s False Prophets, I’ll give this a short review and a long review.

The short review: Holy shit, this book is good. Go buy it.

OK, so the long review. I got my copy when I was but a few ten’s of pages away from finishing Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science and try as I did I simply couldn’t resist putting Ben’s excellent book aside for the duration it would take me to read Mike’s book. Ben can rest easy in that it took me only a few absorbed and fascinated hours to read Mike’s book and I will thus be back with him shortly.

Mike starts with an overview of what is to come through the rest of the book – a subject delineated overview of the last ten years or so of attempts to defeat autism.

Mike’s son (who coincidentally is the same age as my own) is introduced and we hear of the abject lack of options given to parents in the early 90’s.

The clinic staff were all sympathetic and courteous, but they appeared to have no practical suggestions……We did not return.

It was at this time that Mike came into contact with two names, now steeped in the autism alt-med industry: Paul Shattock and Bernard Rimland. Shattock liked GF/CF and Rimland liked mega-dose vitamins together with anti-oxidants and _also_ the GF/CF diet. However:

I read the papers from Sunderland and San Diego with great interest……To say I was disappointed was an understatement. What immediately struck me about the writings of Shattock, Rimland and their colleagues was that, rather than indicating an innovate approach at the cutting edge of medical science, they revelaed a retreat into the byways and cul-de-sacs of the biological psychiatry of the 1960s and 1970s.

Then, later on, Mike discusses the beating heart of this book – the delusion itself:

I have become increasingly concerned at the damaging consequences of the quest to ‘defeat autism’. The movement that has advanced under this banner on both sides of the Atlantic seeks to redefine autism as an epidemic disease caused by vaccines or some other, as yet unidentified, environmental factor. Despite the lack of scientific support for this theory it has acquired the character of a dogmatic conviction for many who uphold it, in the face of all contradictory evidence.

Mike makes no bones about the fact that he considers (rightly so in my opinion) the quest to ‘defeat autism’ to be damaging on numerous levels. It is damaging financially to parents. It is damaging to relationships. It is damaging to children’s health. But most of all, it is damaging in the attitude that the crusade itself expresses towards autistic people. Mike, I am delighted to report, quotes extensively from Frank Klein and Jim Sinclair and makes nice mentions of Autism Hub bloggers at various times.

To me, this is an ‘autistic friendly’ book. Parents are not given any empowering pity just because they are parents and the voices and opinions of autistic people are given equal space to those who are not autistic. Mike does not try to pretend that everything is rosy in the garden of autism but he does most definitely portray the need to defeat autism as damaging. This is a must read for all parents and all people involved however peripherally in the field of autism.

13 Responses to “Defeating Autism: A Damaging Delusion”

  1. jypsy November 8, 2008 at 01:15 #


  2. Socrates November 8, 2008 at 02:22 #

    Slightly OT but, Shattock’s 2 year GFCF study is (was) due to report soon.

    Strangely, I can’t find any mention of it on the new ARU website (although I have a saved copy of the old one).

    Stranger too, one of his team (Paul Whitetly) at the NAS conference recently (the one Mike Stanton went to), said in a hand out

    “A GFCF diet shoul not be recommended as a Treatment to people with an ASD”

    It’s 1.30 am in right now and I’m a little strung out but still deafened by alarm bells.

    I’ll get back to it in the morning…

  3. kristina November 8, 2008 at 04:37 #

    Have been following his Spiked columns—-this book’s not to be missed.

  4. Maddy November 8, 2008 at 05:05 #

    Spiked columns? I’m distracted now. Seems like I’m off to Amazon again! Should be good to read something by a parent that isn’t the ‘woe is me,’ type for a pleasant change.

  5. Lisa November 8, 2008 at 19:11 #

    I’ve noticed that most of the “parent of child with autism saves the world” books are really very focused, not on the child with autism, but on the parent… her/his emotions upon receiving a child’s diagnosis… her/his search for a cure… her/his unending energy and certainty that out there will work.

    Then – the moment of truth! Dr. X has developed an amazing new technique that will “recover,” or at least come close to “recovering” the child.

    There are chapters of hope, dashed hope, hope again, and – finally success! Awesome and amazing mom and/or dad have succeeded in fixing his/her child, and the day is won.

    It’s a simple and well worn plot – and already the subject of plenty of made-for-TV AND cinematic films.

    The issue, IMHO, is that the book is about the parent, written for other parents, and celebrating the amazingness of the parent.

    I understand that this book is different (it’s not about saving, but about accepting). But is it about the child – or the parent?


  6. Tanners Dad November 8, 2008 at 19:39 #

    I am not looking to Defeat Autism Now. I have a medical professional with that title that has given my son back words that he has not had for six years. I am looking to interact with the soul beneath the surface. Some people with autism have stated that we need to learn their language and broaden our view of the world or they need to narrow their focus to communicate and function in our world. Defeat no… Live a functional life as independent as possible.

  7. Steven Yap November 9, 2008 at 07:45 #

    I like you dedication into this area. We should provide ample chance for special children to live.

  8. alyric November 9, 2008 at 17:29 #

    “Some people with autism have stated that we need to learn their language and broaden our view of the world or they need to narrow their focus to communicate and function in our world. Defeat no… Live a functional life as independent as possible.”


    “We should provide ample chance for special children to live.”

    Wow, two excellent sentiments in one post. Makes my day.

  9. cazinuk February 23, 2009 at 00:29 #

    Okay, so Dr Fitzpatrick preaches about acceptance yet sends his child to a residential school. Judging from the amount of interviews and books he has written on the subject of autism he cannot have been his sons primary carer. I have two late onset autistic children both of whom are on the gf/cf diet. The only delusion is to ignore the physical medical problems these children have. Its possible to accept autistic characteristics (because that is what autism really is) and treat the underlying biomedical problems which are causing many of these children great physical discomfort. I get very upset when I see biomedical approches generalised and dismissed as quackery. There is a growing body of evidence to support biomedical intervention its mainstream medicine which is backwards in its approach. Perhaps one day Dr Fiztpatrick will take the time to read some other informative publications ie “Children with Starving Brains” and open his mind. For the record I accept and love my autistic children and want whats best for them. As to the poster who states “Should be good to read something by a parent that isn’t the ‘woe is me,’ type ” well perhaps with biomedical approaches implemented and more children becoming higher functioning they could be writing books about how terrible us parents are! There is a huge difference between the high functioning aspies who are diagnosed in later life and the classic non verbal regressive type of autism (these kids are physically ill!!). Incidentally a question, where are the autistics who have offered to interpret for children like my non verbal son?? For the record Donna Williams a famous autistic also belives in biomedical intervention and recongises that these children often have impaired immune system responses. FOR THE RECORD I ACCEPT AND LOVE BOTH MY AUTISTIC CHILDREN! – p.s. I too score highly for aspie traits!

  10. RealLife December 24, 2009 at 00:54 #

    The Holmes and Bradstreet studies have been supposedly demolished by critiques in the book Defeating Autism by Michael Fitzpatrick. In reality his critiques read self-damningly in the context of his having a whole chapter titled “Being appropriately critical”.

    A widely cited study published in 2003 examined the mercury content of babies’ ‘first haircut’ samples from 94 children with autism and 45 controls and found levels significantly lower in the autistic children (and the more severe the autism the lower the mercury level)(Holmes et al. 2003). The authors interpreted these findings as suggesting that children with autism do not excrete mercury into their hair — and that the mercury burden remains active and toxic, within the bodies of children with autism. There were, however, a number of reasons to be sceptical about these findings {Institute of Medicine 2004: 133-134). Firstly, the study was funded by Safe Minds, a militant, parent-led, anti-mercury campaigning group.

    But so what? Almost all other studies are funded by immensely-wealthy corporate-dominated interests such as pharma manufacturers and the institutions they dominate. Applying that objection evenhandedly rather than with Fitzpatrick’s peculiar selectivity would result in there being virtually no studies at all recognised as legitimate in the last century of medical research.

    Secondly, its authors included only one recognised scientist, the Kentucky chemist Boyd Haley, well known for blaming mercury in dental amalgam and from other environmental sources for a range of disorders, including chronic fatigue syndrome and Alzheimer’s disease. Another author, Amy Holmes, is a doctor with an autistic child; she is a campaigner against vaccination and a provider of chelation therapies. Another, Mark Blaxill, has a business school MBA.

    Here Fitzpatrick employs ad-hominem insinuation, which is widely condemned by scientists as meritless, albeit being popular in the unscientific circles at which his book is aimed. And he deploys it with extremely prejudiced selectivity, because one might just as reasonably dismiss all or most professional (hence “recognised”) scientists on the basis of their money-making connections to corporatised, institutionalised and career-ised operations. Applying his argument with any diligence would leave little or nothing standing in the scientific record. And even such greats as Copernicus, Newton, Darwin, Mendel, Faraday and Einstein were not “recognised” scientists, until retrospectively so recognised.

    Thirdly, there were concerns about selec­tion bias: autistic subjects were recruited from Holmes’s clinic and controls via the internet.

    But so what? Quite how could any such selection bias account for that finding of 8-fold difference with very high statistical significance, p<0.000004.

    Fourthly, though the hair samples were described as ‘first haircut’, they were taken at a median age of over 17 months, rather than at birth, so the implications of their mercury content for prenatal exposures (for example, to RhoD immunoglobulin containing thimerosal, given to Rhesus negative mothers during pregnancy) were unclear.

    But the hair started growing at 0 months and not all mercury sources are prenatal anyway.

    Fifthly, infant exposures to other sources of mercury were not ascertained.

    But again, in terms of the study being merely evidence of a mercury-autism connection, so what?

    Most importantly, the authors presented no direct evidence for their hypothesis that low hair levels of mercury reflect persisting toxicity in chil­dren with autism.

    But so what? Has anyone presented any evidence against that hypothesis? What evidence would you seek?

    A subsequent study comparing children with autism and controls in Hong Kong, found no difference in mercury levels (Ip et aI. 2007). The authors concluded that their results showed that there was ‘no causal relationship between mercury as an environmental neurotoxin and autism’.

    But that Ip et al. study has been absolutely discredited and shown to actually corroborate Holmes et al. rather than challenge it: And it anyway concerns 7-year-olds (and in the context of Dr Fitzpatrick’s own nit-picking of a mere 17 months delay above).

    Though numerous anecdotal reports and testimonials claim dramatic improvements in symptoms of autism following chelation therapy to remove mercury and other heavy metals believed to be toxic, it is impossible to find independent confirmation of these benefits.

    But those “numerous anecdotal reports and testimonials” are “independent confirmation”. Except that when Dr Fitzpatrick uses the word “independent” he in reality means “corporate-establishment-dependent”. And those corporate-institutionalised groups had not found any confirmation for the simple reason that they did not carrry out any studies because they did not want to find any such confirmation.

    However, one study of chelation has been widely cited in support of the mercury-autism theory. In this study, conducted jointly by the Florida DAN! doctor Jeffrey Bradstreet and the Geiers, more than 200 children with autism were found to have excreted significantly more mercury in their urine than 18 controls (apparently healthy children whose parents had sought chelation treatment because of worries about heavy metal toxicity) (Bradstreet 2003). Apart from revealing a frightening willingness of parents to subject their children to chelation therapy, it is difficult to draw any conclusions from this study.

    That study found more than 3 times higher mercury in autistics, with a huge significance level of p<0.0002. But Dr Fitzpatrick indeed could not draw the mercury-acquitting conclusion he wished to from those brief numbers so he did not find even a tiddler of space for them in his book (perhaps because it was required for his closing masterclass about “Being appropriately critical” instead).

    Apart from revealing a frightening willingness of parents to subject their children to chelation therapy,

    ….in the context that no-one has ever been killed by DMSA chelation, in stark contrast to the lethal drugs that Dr Fitzpatrick routinely prescribes. But then his book also didn’t find the little space to mention that it was DMSA rather than EDTA in the study. And it began with a grossly misleading scare-story ANECDOTE about the one child harmed by EDTA which is anyway not the normal chelator for autism. It’s analogous to lumping all pharmas together into one and condemning them as evil quackery just because someone once died of too many paracetamols.

    And you consider this to be an excellent, must-read book.

  11. Ted Garvin December 19, 2011 at 18:40 #

    As someone with both a mental illness and being on the autistic spectrum, the focus on “defeating” the conditions or making the individual with the syndrome be “normal” is wrong. Instead of “fixing” them, people “suffering” from these conditions need to be helped to learn how to cope in the world of the neurotypical, while appreciating their gifts.

    There is nothing wrong with having a differently wired brain.

    Normal is a setting on your dryer.


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    […] the UK’s National Autistic Society. In an issue earlier this year, Mike Fitzpatrick, GP and author had an extract from his latest book […]

  2. A-spies HQ Norway » “A Damaging Delusion” - December 30, 2008

    […] Leitch har skrevet at han mener at boken er veldig “autistvennlig” – Det er åpenbart at Fitzpatrick […]

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