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An epidemic of Autism - how homeopathy can help

What is autism and the autistic spectrum?
Autism is a type of developmental disorder affecting mainly language and social interaction (although it may also include a variety of physical symptoms) that profoundly impacts a child's life. What we call autism is actually the best known and most common diagnostic category falling under the umbrella of Pervasive Developmental Disorders.
The autistic spectrum is quite broad, including children who are developmentally delayed as well as the ten percent of autistic children who are savants (i.e., gifted in one particular area such as art, music, or math—see article by my husband, Robert Ullman, in this issue). While children with a more extreme degree of autism may be diagnosed before the age of one or when age-appropriate language skills fail to develop, diagnosis of higher-functioning children on the autistic spectrum, such as those with Asperger's Disorder, may not occur until the child enters school or even later. Some remain undiagnosed.
The parents may be aware that something is wrong, but no one can pinpoint the problem. These children don't quite fit in and may be perceived as quirky, withdrawn, or backward. Parents may describe their child as "not quite being there" or "marching to her own beat." Once these parents start to research autism and Asperger's Disorder, they are often quick to recognize experiences strikingly similar to their own. Finding a label to explain what seems to be happening with their children is bittersweet. They have an explanation and a direction to pursue but, often, more questions than answers when it comes to what they can expect for their child's future. Due to the growing number of children being diagnosed with some form of autism, however, the availability of information, resources, and parent support groups has skyrocketed.

Fascinating, one-of-a-kind children
Children with autism experience the world differently than the rest of us. Many inhabit a world of their own. Parents complain that the child just doesn't seem to be very interested in playing with other kids. When he finds himself in a situation with other kids, he is much more likely to engage in parallel rather than interactive play and to be more curious about objects than people. His world may revolve around a fascination with trains or fans or cyclones rather than paying much attention to little Paul from next door.
Parents can become disheartened by the lack of eye contact with their autistic youngsters and may perceive them as distant, disconnected, and unemotional. Body posture, stance, and movements may appear contrived, rigid, and lacking spontaneity. These kids may exhibit repetitive, peculiar habits such as flapping or tiptoeing. What brings joy to others may seem of little interest to the autistic child and, conversely, such a child may absolutely delight in what seems trivial, routine, or unnoticeable to parents and peers. Their thinking may be quite literal as compared to the more imaginative play of their siblings or classmates. They may be self-contained to the point of appearing aloof.
Language is another area of concern and can vary tremendously depending on where the child falls on the autistic spectrum. While severely impaired children may be delayed or even totally lacking in spoken language, children with Asperger's Disorder may be articulate far beyond their age. Those children who are more skilled verbally may ask the same questions again and again, and yet again, driving their parents to distraction. Even the children with good vocabularies, however, may be able to engage in conversation for only a minute or two. These children will quickly announce that they are finished or abruptly hand over the telephone receiver in mid-sentence. Language is typically unusual, original, or the tone or mode of expression is out of the ordinary. Exaggerated attachment to particular objects can reach a point of obsessiveness. Routines and rituals may be adhered to compulsively. Autistic children may also exhibit tantrums, rage, and a wide range of behavioral problems.

How common is autism? Why is the prevalence increasing?
Parents, educators, and health care providers are alarmed at the prevalence of Autistic Spectrum Disorders. Prior to the last decade, the incidence was estimated at 20 per 10,000 youngsters. By 1997 this number had doubled to 40--50. The number of children treated in the U.S. for autism jumped 556% from 1991 to1997 to approximately half a million. This is one in every 400 births. A similar trend was observed in the United Kingdom. The tremendous impact these children have on their families, school systems, and community resources translates into an expenditure of nearly thirty billion dollars per year in the U.S.

What is the cause of such a dramatic increase in the incidence of autism here and in the U.K.? Many fingers point to immunizations. Some argue that the increased incidence of autism directly parallels the rise in the number of vaccinations administered to children as well as the introduction of the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine. Infants in this country receive up to thirty different vaccinations before the age of two. The possible connection with immunizations is of particular interest to homeopaths who, in general, believe the fewer immunizations the better with some notable exceptions such as tetanus and polio.
A groundswell of parents of autistic children blame the MMR vaccine in particular. They rely on the case studies of children who experienced autistic-type regression shortly after receiving the MMR immunization.
In some cases, these children also experienced fever, hearing loss, and inflammatory bowel disease. Further controversy concerns whether or not the MMR vaccine received adequate testing before being administered to significant populations of children. In our practice, we have treated some children who were perfectly healthy prior to the MMR vaccine and autistic immediately afterwards. In many other cases there appears to be a correlation, but the time frame makes it hard to know for sure.
Equally controversial is the possible connection with mercury toxicity from the thimerosal contained in some vaccines. The twenty years from 1970 to 1990, when the number of children with autism in the U.S. doubled, was a time when thimerosal-containing DPT vaccines were becoming more widely administered.

Homeopathy has advantages in treating autistic children
Homeopathy has several advantages over conventional medicine when it comes to treating children on the autistic spectrum. First, homeopaths love people who are "out of the box"—whose symptoms are quirky, unique, odd. It is precisely these unusual rather than common symptoms that lead us to prescribe a homeopathic remedy. A homeopath treating an autistic child will want to determine what makes this child different even from every other child with autism. Ironically, symptoms like toewalking, arm flapping, and obsessing over trains may seem unique and uncommon behavior for most kids, but they are commonplace among autistic children. So, it is helpful for the homeopath to treat a number of autistic children in order to get a clear idea of what is unusual and what is not.
A second advantage of homeopathy is that we treat the whole person—all, not part, of the symptoms. Take a child with language delay, heightened sensitivity, a bowel problem such as chronic constipation or incontinence, and impaired social functioning. A conventional doctor, or even a holistic or complementary physician, would need to address each of these problems separately. Not so with homeopathy. A single homeopathic remedy can address all of these symptoms. Of course, the parent has the choice of adding other modalities, such as a casein and gluten-free diet, nutritional supplements, occupational therapy, sensory integration therapy, and other therapies that have been known to offer some help. But these may prove unnecessary once the right homeopathic remedy has been given. I have found it most effective to try the homeopathic remedy without introducing any new therapy, and then to evaluate the results.
Third, these children can be very sensitive to and finicky about taste and smell. Homeopathic remedies taste great—in fact, kids often beg for them. They may not need to be given very frequently—in some cases, just one dose every few months. And, fourth, homeopathy is the safest type of medicine you will find. Parents who are gun-shy after immunizations and other medications can rest assured that homeopathy is nontoxic and natural.

What can be expected from homeopathic treatment?
How far can an autistic child progress under the care of a homeopath? This depends on where the child falls on the autistic spectrum to begin with, how clear an understanding the homeopath can attain of the child, and how well the homeopathic remedy fits the child. With more severely autistic children, I have found homeopathy to be especially effective for physical and behavioral complaints. A significant improvement in seizures and bowel problems, for example, along with a decrease in outbursts can thrill the parents of such children, as can even small increments of improvement in language and social interaction. Some children in the mid-range of autism can experience more dramatic changes in all of these areas.
I have seen the most far-reaching success with children with Asperger's Disorder, a group of kids who can be highly articulate, verbal, and more socially interactive than others on the autistic spectrum. A few such cases appear in our book, Ritalin-Free Kids. Although these children will always have their own endearing individuality, with successful homeopathic treatment they can become quite normal academically, behaviorally, and socially. I have seen many of these patients end up happily in a mainstream classroom with a more than adequate ability to establish and maintain friendships. Obsessiveness and quirky habits diminish, desire to engage in age-appropriate activities normalizes, and communication skills improve enough that these kids are not noticeably different from their peers. The parents are overjoyed to have their children back.

How to find the best remedy for autistic kids
There is no recipe book for which homeopathic remedy to give to a child. Absolutely any homeopathic remedy—polychrest or small, from the animal, plant, or mineral kingdom—may be needed in an individual case. This is how I approach these cases.
1) First I speak with the parent(s) to get as clear a picture as possible about the child's problems, health, academic performance, behavior, social interactions, habits, nature. Highly observant, articulate parents can be extremely helpful in providing information. If the child is too young, unable, or unwilling to speak with me, the parent's report is even more essential. I try as best I can to get the child's case rather than the parent's, trying to sift out any projections of the parent that may not be a totally accurate, objective perception or impression.
2) I assess how much the child can communicate with me and, vice versa, how much I can communicate with him. Most of the time parents are good judges of how likely it is that the child will spend half an hour to an hour and a half engaging in conversation with me. They may be able to correctly predict how long their child will be willing to engage in conversation or they may be pleasantly surprised at how beautifully the kids can communicate. Youngsters can express their feelings in a fresh, spontaneous, and honest way that parents can't match, providing images and glimpses into their inner world. If the child is unable or unwilling to talk to me directly, a type of bypass is to interview the child with the parent(s) as intermediary or translator. It takes more time but is much better than not getting the child's point of view directly. Whatever works!
3) The more expressive and open the child, the greater the possibility of finding an exact remedy match based on the child's specific descriptions of symptoms, sensations, hobbies, fascinations, fantasies, images, and dreams. Once the child starts talking, regardless of the subject matter, he reveals himself and starts giving clues about which remedy he needs. No matter whether he is explaining the intricacies of his favorite video game or describing in detail how it feels when he can't get out the words that he wants. It is all reflective of him and of the remedy he needs.
4) When a child is not able to communicate verbally, the case is more challenging. Out of necessity I depend more on the parents' understanding of their child's experience, behaviors, reactions, physical symptoms, history, any traumas during pregnancy, traumas to the child, and observations of interactions with family members and other children. Sometimes the child is unique enough that the correct remedy can be found without his direct input. But the case is far richer and the prescription much more certain if I have a chance to enter and experience the world of the child.

How parents of autistic children can best support homeopathic treatment
• Find a homeopath you feel you can trust who has experience treating autistic kids.
• Continue treatment with that practitioner for at least one year. It may be challenging to find the right remedy and may take some time.
• If you want to use other therapies in addition to homeopathy, consult with your homeopath first. This is particularly true at the beginning of treatment while your homeopath is trying to find the best remedy for your child.
• If your child suffers acute illnesses during the course of treatment, call your homeopath before administering conventional medications except in emergency situations.
• Become an astute, impartial observer so you can report symptoms and changes objectively to your homeopath.
• Raising an autistic child, especially if he has siblings, can be high-maintenance. Make sure that you as parents and the rest of the family get plenty of attention so that everyone's needs get met. The demands of a youngster with autism may seem pressing and urgent, but it is important to maintain balance and harmony in the whole family.
• Breathe deeply, take one step at a time, and remember both you and your child are doing the best you can!

About the author:
Judyth Reichenberg-Ullman has been a licensed naturopathic physician board certified in homeopathy for 19 years. Co-author of six books on homeopathy including the bestselling Ritalin-Free Kids, she practices in Edmonds, Washington. You can visit her website at http://www.healthyhomeopathy.com/.