BECKLEY, W.Va. — It's little wonder that a single puzzle piece is used as the symbol by most organizations that deal with autism.
This disorder that now affects one in 150 children in this country involves a puzzling array of symptoms and behaviors. Medical research accepted by most physicians indicates there is still no known single cause or cure for autism.
However, leading autism researches and some local moms have joined thousands like them across the country and have refused to accept there is little or nothing that can be done to help their children. Having turned to biomedical interventions in addition to other therapies, they have experienced varying degrees of success and setbacks.
"We are not trying some weird form of voodoo. We are treating medical conditions known to exist in children with autism," said Janet Lintala of Beckley.
There is a new medical model established by Defeat Autism Now! or DAN! doctors. Traditionally, autism has been thought of as a brain disorder. DAN! doctors say they have the science to back up their beliefs that autism is made up of several physiological conditions, such as intestinal and immune disorders, inability to flush toxins from their bodies and high levels of yeast and metals in their bodies.
"This is a new model that says there is a set of medical conditions, and there is a need to treat the biochemistry not just the behaviors," said Lintala, the mother of a child with autism and who has taken the DAN! clinician training.
However, she is quick to point out the biomedical interventions are used in conjunction with traditional therapies that have been developed for children with autism.
"We're not saying this is a magic bullet. Families experience different results, but we are beginning to see lots of positive results from these biomedical interventions," Lintala said.
Biomedical intervention involves applying the principles of biochemistry and physiology to clinical medicine, she said.
"You don't cure an epidemic by treating the symptoms. You have to deal with the problem. Biomedical intervention addresses the underlying medical and genetic conditions that are found in children with autism, which was once thought to be strictly a brain disorder," Lintala said.
One such condition — abnormal intestinal impermeability — is referred to colloquially as "leaky gut." Chemicals, such as gluten in wheat and casein in milk, for example, do not break down sufficiently before reaching the lower intestine. Once they "leak" into the bloodstream, they create a reaction similar to that caused by narcotics. This may account for some of the "meltdowns" that can become severe and violent.
Many families nationwide say they've seen drastic changes in children who've gone on a diet free of gluten and casein.
Lintala's son's violent episodes disappeared within two weeks of following the diet.
Kara Ware of Fayetteville, whose son Cazh, 5, began having meltdowns and stopped speaking at 13 months, has seen dramatic improvements in his overall behavior as a result of the diet and other biomedical interventions.
"I have seen my child go from constant screaming all day long, kicking, attempting to hurt himself and others and being totally out of control to a happy, active child who can sit down and focus," Ware said. "He started speaking again, and he loves to sing. The screaming and violent meltdowns have stopped. It has been amazing."
One of the first interventions was a cranial-sacral manipulation that can be done by chiropractors and osteopaths. "That stopped the screaming almost immediately," Ware said. "He had seizure-type behavior and tantrums to the enth degree. Now, he doesn't."
Ware also had Cazh in bio-resonance sound therapy and started him on the gluten-free, casein-free diet. "The change was incredible," Ware said. "Within six months, the tantrums were gone. I've seen continuous improvements as we've used other biomedical interventions, and I have seen Cazh regress when we've stopped some of those interventions."
When it comes to the meltdowns these children often experience, Lintala and others looking into biomedical interventions say they believe these are often reactions to severe pain.
"There is scientific research that shows 65 to 80 percent of these children have inflammation and ulceration in the stomach and intestines that's comparable that found in patients with Crohn's disease. Lots of time when children are having a meltdown, they double up and wrap their arms around their middle and rock or lie bent over a couch as if they are experiencing pain. Without verbal skills to communicate what is going on, they let out that frustration through screaming and tantrums," Lintala said.
Lintala hears the same stories from more than 20 moms involved in the workshops she conducts periodically at Kroger in Beckley.
However, there are many physicians who still believe there is no science behind their claims. During a recent DAN! conference, Lintala saw a glimmer of hope. For the first time, there was a representative of the American Academy of Pediatrics attending and taking part in the dialogue about biomedical intervention.
"It's a start. At least, it's the beginning of what I hope will be an ongoing dialogue," Lintala said. "There is scientific evidence for what we are doing, and I think it's unethical for physicians to ignore what is available."
Bev Davis writes for The Register-Herald in Beckley, W.Va.