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A brave parent speaks: How I Made a Mistake and Was Given The Opportunity to Say I’m Sorry

12 Jun

Over at Emma’s Hope Book a mother has done something very brave: made a public apology for a mistake.

How I Made a Mistake and Was Given The Opportunity to Say I’m Sorry

She starts by quoting her daughter:

“You put the toast in the basement. That made me sad.” Emma stared at me expectantly.

I drew in a breath. My chest felt tight. I knew exactly what she was referring to. We’ve had similar conversations, but she’s never said it so directly.

The article is sad but wonderful. I can’t pull excerpts without destroying the beauty of the story, so I urge you to follow the link and read the rest.

Disabled Children: A Legal Handbook

13 Jun

This for UK parents only but if you are such – its free for PDF download from here

So what do parents really think causes autism?

12 May

According to the MIND institute, presenting at IMFAR:

The two most common causes of autism cited among all parents was an environmental cause (51%) and/or a genetic cause (51%). Vaccines (22%) were the third most commonly believed etiological factor, followed by 20% of parents who did not know or have a guess as to what may cause autism.

This is an interesting set of results to me. I’m frequently told that the overwhelming majority of parents believe vaccines cause autism. Turns out less than a quarter do.

Also of interest was the following statement:

Vaccines are commonly cited as a cause by parents in all ethnic groups despite a clear lack of scientific evidence demonstrating a relationship between autism and either the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine, or thimerosal containing vaccines

Wasn’t that long ago that autism anti-vaxxer supermo Rick Rollens was basically in charge of MIND. How times have changed.

The Peril of Parent Testimony – Stem Cell Treatment for Autism

15 Dec

It usually begins naively enough – the parent of a newly-diagnosed child launches a search into the Wild, Wild West of the World Wide Web, searching for help and hope for a diagnosis they are still struggling to grasp.

Soon parents may find themselves on internet support forums and in email groups, surrounded by parents promoting everything from the plausibly helpful to the fantastically impossible.

Some parents may become part of a new peer group – an online pack of believers, where pack status is determined by the number of experimental treatments employed and the claims made regarding these treatments. Alpha pack status is achieved when a parent claims to have “recovered” or “almost recovered” their child, often by applying an arbitrary definition of “recovered,” or even an extrapolated percentage of recovery. Every developmental tick is attributed to the most recent treatment addition, adverse reactions are attributed to healing, and anyone questioning the pack interpretation is considered an intruder in the anthill.

The appeal of these claims is obvious. The truth, however, may be another matter. With autism, there are always newcomers to the ranks of the recently-diagnosed, whose parents are unfamiliar with the histories of popularized treatments, fantastic claims, and failed treatment prophecies.

Eventually, even well-meaning parents may be sucked into the vortex of upping the treatment ante and believing their own fantastic claims, and may remember history differently in order to rationalize and justify the invasive and risky treatments their children are forced to endure. The pursuit of treatment itself becomes a drug — impairing objectivity, dulling recollection, and often, even obscuring the truth.

And so it goes with the Faiella family. Daniel and Ruth frequently thrust their son, Matthew, now 10, into the media to promote hyperbaric and stem-cell treatment for autism, and they have done so yet again, in Local Father Says Controversial Treatments For Autism Work. Matthew has previously endured four stem cell transplants, the fourth not only involving lumbar puncture, according to Daniel Faiella’s blog, but also a frightening experience with anesthesia in a developing central American country.

Unfortunately, Mr. Faiella later removed his harrowing account of anesthesia and the stem cell lumbar puncture from his blog, and though left an entry stating that he still “believes” in the clinic, along with plenty of graphic pictures of his son undergoing this procedure. The search results for his original post concerning Matthew’s dangerous experience are all that now remain:

Aug 10, 2010 … I would never do a spinal stem cell injection again! I can’t just write the good without writing the obstacle that we went through! ……/i-would-never-do-spinal-stem-cell.html
Aug 10, 2010 … We also believe Matthew got way too much anesthesia! Thankfully, we were able to get these behaviors to go away by doing many hours of deep ……/i-would-never-do-spinal-stem-cell.html

Mr. Faiella has also self-published a book, Out of the Darkness: The Faiella Family’s Journey to Recover their Autistic Son, encompassing a number of alternative and questionable treatments. According to the Amazon page where it is sold, the book appears to be endorsed by JB Handley, of Generation Rescue and Age of Autism, as well as a number of individuals in the DAN treatment community. Recognition and notoriety – the mirage of a maverick hero “rescuing” a child — seems to glorify and goad along risky experimentation on children with autism.

The current news article depicting the Faiella family’s upcoming stem cell journey to Panama includes many elements typical of such accounts, such as the dreaded institutional prognosis rendered by the diagnostician. This has been a recurring theme in the Faiella treatment testimony, as has the impression that Matthew only recently acquired particular skills that are then attributed to the current treatments. As in a media article published when Matthew was seven:

“Faiella recently gained the ability to use words and loves to share his passion for drawing pictures.

Matthew’s dad said his son was diagnosed with autism at 18 months, and doctors warned he eventually would need to be institutionalized.

“They gave us really no hope,” Daniel Faiella said. “We broke down and cried, but I looked at the doctor and said, ‘Not my son. Not on my watch. I’m going to do whatever I can.'”

And another — Matthew is turning nine years old:

Published : Monday, 02 Nov 2009, 8:00 PM EST
WILLIAMSVILLE, N.Y. (WIVB) – Like most eight-year-old boys, Matthew Faiella of Williamsville loves playing with his action figures. Unlike most boys his age, he has an incredible talent for sketching, and can also speak Spanish.
It’s hard to imagine, just two years ago, Matthew, who lives with autism, couldn’t even string two words together.
“It was very sad to see, he was in his own little world. Couldn’t speak. Couldn’t communicate,” said Daniel Faiella, Matthew’s father.

The dramatic statements made in media opportunities regarding Matthew’s diagnostic baseline, (institutional) prognosis, and progress have changed significantly from the original parent testimony posted in public internet locations five years ago. According to Matthew’s mother, “momtoMatthew,” the diagnostic baselines and prognoses were quite different then:

When Matthew was four years old, his mother wrote:

“Matthew was diagnosed at age 20 months to have PDD/NOS. This neurologist just doesn’t seem to agree with that diagnosis at all. He says Matthew is just too different to be given that diagnosis. His is very loving, able to learn easily, is learning to read, can write beautifully, and has a great memory to the point of possible photographic memory.”

Several months later (Dec 2005), momtoMatthew explains that:

“Matthew was diagnosed as language delay at 18 months, then that diagnosis was changed to PDD-NOS at 22 months. He had the PDD/NOS label until just a short few weeks ago. […] In the end they told us that NO he is not on the spectrum. However, he does have a SEVERE receptive/expressive language disorder. […] They told me that with TONS of speech therapy he could get to be so typical that no one would know he had ever had a disorder at all.”

Matthew is likely now diagnosed accurately as on the spectrum, as his parents do report. Interestingly, this is apparent in the very youtube video ICM (apparently the stem cell clinic) posted to advertise the treatment. The Faiellas now depict Matthew as “85% recovered” on a charitable site soliciting donations for his additional stem cell transplants. The meaning of “85% recovered” remains unclear, as does the remaining 15% of autism to be eradicated with a 5th stem cell treatment.

Matthew is a charming young man and has made wonderful progress over time. This would understandably pique the interest of a “new” set of parental eyes unfamiliar with the history, especially since his progress is now being attributed largely to hbot and stem cell transplants. However, according to past parent testimony, Matthew has been communicating, speaking in sentences, answering questions, following 3 to 4-step directions, reading, spelling, writing, and drawing long before his hyperbaric oxygen and stem cell treatments:

Dec 2005: Having just turned five years old, Matthew can indeed communicate in sentences, and on this occasion, language progress is attributed to supplements:

“After giving him his supplements, I would say within 15 to 20 minutes he was much calmer and happily playing with some toys. He came over to me a few minutes later and said “excuse me mommy, I want to watch the dog movie.”

Matthew was spelling and reading words at age 3 or 4, and mom states that his handwriting was advanced for his age of 6 at this time:

Despite the parents’ claims that Matthew’s developmental gains are more recent and due to stem cell treatments and hbot, Matthew had made significant progress by the time he was 5, according to mom:

“My ds has come a long way since he was first dx’d. At that time he was completely non-verbal, he could not follow any sort of direction, he would spend at least a quarter of the day spinning in circles or hand flapping (or both).
Today he is a little chatterbox, can follow directions fairly well..even 3 and 4 step directions, he no longer spins or flaps, and his receptive language is much better.”

And also as a five-year-old, mom reports that Matthew was initiating conversation, answering questions, and speaking in sentences:

It is curious that Matthew’s parents later edited and deleted the seemingly contradictory content of these past public posts, following the publication of their book and numerous media articles (checked using an address captured in the screenshots). Perhaps this is most unfortunate for the parents themselves — these at least served as markers along the path that Matthew actually traveled, in case they ever wish to find their way back.

When parent testimonies take on a life of their own, the well-meaning parents responsible may have lost their way, lost their boundaries, and even lost their recollection of the child that actually was – a happy, healthy boy who has been learning, loving, and making progress all along.

Internet testimonies and fantastic treatment claims: approach with caution.

Advancing paternal age and risk of autism

2 Dec

This isn’t the first study to look at paternal age as a possible risk factor for autism but it is, I believe, the first meta-analysis of the subject. The conclusions of the study were:

Based on data from a birth cohort, a family-based study and a meta-analysis, we provide the strongest and most consistent evidence available that advancing paternal age at the time of birth of offspring increases the risk of autism. De novo germline mutations, epigenetic alterations and life course toxic exposure may partly explain the observed association. The evidence is substantial enough to justify a search for the underlying mechanisms in both human and animal models

An interesting conclusion for a few reasons. First and foremost the idea of paternal age being a definite risk factor for autism. Secondly the authors don’t shy away from the idea that ‘life course toxic exposure’ may explain the association. Its not exactly a new observation amongst science (despite what some observers think) but its good to see it placed so clearly amongst the other clear risk factors.

There will be those, I predict, who will have a go at this study for somehow ‘blaming’ fathers/parents. It has happened in the past and will no doubt have the same effect on those who’ll attack this study for their own reasons.

A reminder for neurodiversity

2 Sep

Its been awhile since I blogged about neurodiversity and why it matters to me as a concept. Two recent events in my own life has made me more aware of that than usual.

In the first event, which concerns me directly, I have had to have a change in the medication I take that helps me regulate the manic depression (bipolar) I am diagnosed with. Nobody knows why I need to adjust my medication, only that it needs adjusting and so I shall shortly have Lamotrigine added to the medication regime I have to take.

How does that remind me about neurodiversity? It reminds me that the basic tenets of neurodiversity – respect for the individual differences those with different neurological makeups have – are my best way of being able to move forward in this world. More on this later.

In the second event, which occurred to some of my new family two days ago, myself, my partner and her two daughters – of whom the eldest (she is 4) is autistic – were shopping. Lily began to have a meltdown, a not unknown event in supermarkets for her and one for which we have a carefully worked out strategy. However, this time our strategy was rudely interrupted when a young woman began to shake her head, gawp openly at Lily and make tutting noises. She obviously felt Lily was a naughty child, rather than an autie child.

My partner and I decided that we had had enough of people judging Lily and so remonstrated with this woman. We both explained that Lily was autistic and unable at the age of four to regulate herself in high impact environments but we had to eat and anyway why should we exclude Lily from coming out with us as a family?

The woman waved her hand at us both in a casual dismissal and said we weren’t ‘controlling’ her properly. I smiled through gritted teeth and asked her what she knew about autism. She refused to answer. I asked her again and she walked off with another casual wave of dismissal. My partner’s by now angry shout of ‘shes autistic and a little girl, she can’t help herself’ following her down the aisle.

Of course, this isn’t the first time either one of us have been exposed to such ignorance and I doubt it will be the last. I’m also sure that many parents and autistic people reading this will be familiar with ‘the look’ that can come from such ignorant people who believe they have a divine right to judge others. But it again reminded me of neurodiversity and why I believe in its most basic tenet.

My partner said to me later that what had upset her so much was that Lily (and you can substitute her name for your own or your child’s) would be – to a certain degree either a lot or some – be dependant on the good will of society as she grew up.

People like the woman in Sainsburys are the ‘anti-neurodiversity’. They believe we can and should judge immediately, based on no other evidence than what we see and hear right in front of us. To me, neurodiversity should sit and think, consider the possibilities and act accordingly, based on a desire to help society in the belief that society should do the same for us.

By specifying a desire to include those with differing neurological disorders/disabilities/differences, neurodiversity helps me to feel secure in the world. It also means that I can feel secure in the world my children will inherit.

ACT Now!

27 Jul

UK Autism campaigners are working together to ‘ACT NOW!’ about the proposed benefit cuts and assessments and have launched a petition which we intend to deliver personally to No 10 Downing Street. Please ACT NOW! and sign by accessing:

The proposed benefit cuts and the assessments will begin in 2013 for those on the Autistic Spectrum who are in receipt of Disability Living Allowance, Employment Support Allowance and other benefits. In addition the cuts across Local Authorities and Primary Care Trusts could have a catastrophic effect on the Autistic community, a group whose vulnerability already creates high levels of stress and anxiety to those involved.

Those who live with autism 24/7, 365 days each year will be at the core of these cuts and will have to live with whatever ensues as a result of the cuts. We are not opposed to cuts as such and understand that cuts need to be made. However the magnitude of the changes that these cuts will bring about and how they will impact on a community that is already marginalised and discriminated against, must be taken into account.

In 2008 the National Audit Office estimated that autism costs the UK 28.2 billion pounds each year and yet only 18% of Local Authorities who responded to the National Audit Office survey were able to give precise numbers of adults with low functioning autism known to services, with only 12% being able to do so for adults with high functioning autism. Given that thousands of children and adults do not meet the criteria for the provision that is available in their Local Authorities and Primary Care Trusts we would like to know how much of the money being spent is on crisis management.

The cuts to budgets in Local Authorities and Primary Care Trusts are going to make it even harder for children and adults to meet the criteria to access the provision that is available within Authorities and Primary Care Trusts, and we fear that only the minimum that can be supplied to these children and adults will be what is given. We also have grave concerns that there will be no new services that would directly benefit autistic children and adults, commissioned by Local Authorities and Primary Care Trusts.

We are calling for urgent talks with Her Majesty’s Government to ensure that those who live with autism 24/7 are consulted fairly and effectively in every aspect of the decision making process that will ultimately affect our lives.

We would like HMS Government to address and respond to our concerns. We WANT HMS Government to address and respond to our concerns.

Autism does not cause divorce

19 May

A new study at IMFAR reports:

Brian Freedman, PhD, lead author of the study and clinical director of the Center for Autism and Related Disorders at Kennedy Krieger Institute, said the findings seem to debunk a lot of the general understanding about high divorce rates among parents of children with autism. Dr. Freedman and his research team found that 64 percent of children with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) belong to a family with two married biological or adoptive parents, compared with 65 percent of children who do not have an ASD.

This is the first scientific study (I believe) that has actually addressed this question. We can of course all recall the utterly unfounded scare stories of 80% put about by know-nothings such as Jenny McCarthy who said on an episode of Oprah:

Soon after Evan’s diagnosis, Jenny says the stress of raising a child with autism began to take a toll on her marriage. An autism advocacy organization reports that the divorce rate within the autism community is staggering. According to its research, 80 percent of all marriages end.

“I believe it, because I lived it,” she says. “I felt very alone in my marriage.”

and which autism organisation was that? You might not be amazed to discover its the equally know-nothing bunch at the National Autism Association.

NAA is presently conducting a national divorce survey of autism families. Several organizations and news outlets have used the often-quoted autism divorce rate of 80%–NAA hopes to confirm or update that percentage before referencing it in its program materials.

Get a clue NAA – maybe you should’ve done the research before letting rent-a-gob loose on the Oprah show.

Extra clause added into UK Equality Bill

6 May

An extra clause has been added into the UK Equality Bill that will come into force in October of this year. The new clause was drafted specifically to cover cases where people (e.g. family members) are ‘associated’ with the person with a disability in question and reads;

Clarifies protection against discrimination by association, for example in relation to a mother who cares for her disabled child

This follows the case of Sharon Coleman who had to go to the European Court wo delivered the following verdict:

…discrimination law is there to combat all forms of discrimination, including those connected to protected groups of people.

The new Clause should prevent the necessity of taking the case to the European Court and will allow such cases to be settled at UK level.

Mum rejects autistic daughter

26 Apr

A terribly sad story from Romania involving a teen autistic girl adopted at a young age and now seemingly rejected by the adopting family.

Mihaela Popa adopted the girl aged 18 months in 1999 but claims doctors failed to tell her she was suffering from the developmental disability. She has now asked a court to overturn the adoption so she can get rid of the teenager.

This poor young girl has also been abandoned by her own parents at birth and now faces a massively uncertain future.

Of course the reversal must happen – who would want that poor girl to be saddled with a parent who didn’t want her? – but this adopting ‘parent’ should not, in my opinion, escape this sordid episode without some form of censure. At the absolute least, one would hope she would be banned from ever being allowed to adopt again.

Some people simply don’t deserve to be parents.