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Vaxxed: The powerful new documentary the CDC wishes would just go away

Del Headshot 3.18.16

Emmy award-winning medical journalist, Del Bigtree.

Del Bigtree is an Emmy award winning medical journalist with experience in producing medically-themed television talk shows on a wide variety of topics. Not one to back away from controversial issues, Mr. Bigtree became interested in the possibility of a potential link between vaccines and autism after receiving numerous viewer requests over the years for media involvement in covering the topic.  The release of audio recordings in August, 2014 of conversations between autism parent and researcher Dr. Brian Hooker and senior CDC scientist Dr. William Thompson which highlighted autism research fraud at the CDC left parents of vaccine-injured children hopeful that at last the vaccine/autism link would be widely publicized. However, the mainstream media blackout on this link has continued despite the black and white nature of Dr. Thompson’s revelations.

When Mr. Bigtree became aware of the content of the Hooker/Thompson conversations, he made some life-changing decisions, ultimately collaborating with Dr. Andrew Wakefield in producing the documentary Vaxxed: From Cover-up to Catastrophe. Vaxxed has been accepted into the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival and is scheduled to be shown on Sunday, April 24 with its New York premiere set for the first week in June.  Autism File executive editor Rita Shreffler spoke with Mr. Bigtree recently on the challenges in bringing the truth about vaccine injury and CDC autism research fraud into the mainstream consciousness.

Rita Shreffler: Can you tell our readers a little about your background and how you became involved in the vaccine/autism controversy?

Del Bigtree:  I spent the seven years prior to working on this film as a producer on The Doctors, a nationally syndicated daytime medical talk show. The shows were energizing, covering life-changing events. I’d find myself scrubbing in with physicians in the OR, then coming back to Paramount Studios to edit the pieces. I enjoyed the whole process especially because the topics often focused on advancements in medicine and surgery that were incorporating, what used to be thought of as alternative approaches, such as lasers and acupuncture.

Early on, we were covering a controversial story about rickets because a number of families had their children taken away from them for what looked like child abuse.  I wanted to include a radiologist on the show who could confirm that rickets in infants could cause the kind of fractures that were being mistaken for abuse.  The man I talked to said, “Del, you don’t want me on your show.” He went on to explain that he was considered a “quack” because of his belief that vaccines were linked to autism. We did end up having him on the show and all went well.  His comment about vaccines and autism stuck with me as the show was consistently getting requests from parents asking that we investigate the autism/vaccine link, but it was clear that until something changed in the overall discussion, we wouldn’t be taking it on.

RS:  It’s always been nearly impossible to get any kind of mainstream news coverage when it comes to a potential link between vaccines and autism despite the fact that thousands and thousands of parents have the same story of typically developing children who regress following vaccines. Why do you think that is?

DB: There are several factors that are probably at work. For some reason that’s hard for me to fathom, vaccines are considered the Holy Grail by many in mainstream medicine and in a lot of the general public as well. Even among my friends who understand the dangers of GMOs and speak out against Monsanto, most seemed shocked that I would question the safety of vaccines.

I challenge people to, the next time they watch TV, try and count how many times they do not see a pharmaceutical ad during a commercial break. I remember the days when you’d only see prescription drug ads while in waiting rooms in doctors’ offices.  That box in all of our homes has become one big pharmaceutical ad, and the profit motive keeps getting bigger. With the Gardasil push alone, now targeting 9-26 year-old girls and boys with three shots each, $30 billion dollars could end up in the hands of Merck and a lot of politicians. That kind of money has to be watched. Another factor may have to do with the revolving door between the CDC and the pharmaceutical industry. It says a lot that Julie Gerberding, former head of the CDC, is now the president of Merck’s vaccine division.

One other thing I find disturbing is the number of doctors I’m hearing from who tell me that they know that vaccines are linked to autism but that coming forward with the truth will destroy their careers.  They literally say, “I don’t want to get Wakefielded.”

RS: I’m also struck by the fact that anyone who even questions vaccine safety is immediately labeled as “anti-vaccine” which tends to paint people as fringe lunatics. All the parents I know who have vaccine-injured children were at one time very pro-vaccine.

DB: I think there’s a loss of humanity and common sense here. If it’s determined that the bars of baby cribs are too far apart, there’s a recall. If Toyota produces cars that may have an issue with brake pedals, there’s a recall.  If there’s a piece of plastic found in a Snickers bar, there’s a recall. But when tens of thousands of parents come forward wondering if vaccines may have played a part in their kids’ regressions into autism, we’re told that they are “misinformed”.

RS:  How was it that you came to collaborate with Dr. Wakefield?

DB:  In August of 2014, I received a call from the same doctor we’d had on the show for the rickets topic who told me in two weeks a whistleblower from the CDC is going to “come out” and say that the CDC had committed fraud on the MMR autism study.  They knew the vaccine was linked to autism and they covered it up.  Two weeks later, Brian Hooker’s taped phone conversations with senior CDC scientist William Thompson hit.  On The Doctors, we’d typically viewed people with the CDC as our friends as they often provided us with story ideas, letting us know what topics were becoming newsworthy so this was shocking to me.

A month or two later, California’s SB277 became an issue as it would end all religious and personal belief vaccine exemptions. I’d always been taught by my parents to question authority, and I couldn’t even imagine that the government would be given the authority to decide what would be injected into my child’s body. Legislation like this marks the end of freedom as we know it. In the blink of an eye, the freedoms our founding fathers tried to ensure can be taken away from us.

In the midst of the SB277 situation in California, I received a call from a friend asking if I knew who Andy Wakefield was and whether I’d like to meet him. I was bothered that almost 10 years after The Lancet retracted Dr. Wakefield’s MMR paper, the whole topic was still coming up again and again.  At a certain point, the fact that people just can’t let the issue drop makes the whole thing become a red flag.

So I ended up attending a private function in Hollywood Hills and met Andy Wakefield for the first time. He told me that he was working on a documentary about the CDC whistleblower and as we talked, because of my work in TV and medical issues and my growing interest in the vaccine/autism topic, the whole thing began coming together.

I flew to Austin shortly afterwards and saw the film Andy had been working on.  I realized I was looking at the biggest story of my lifetime. I’d spent the last eight years of my life producing medically-themed shows and felt that I’d been trained for this moment.

RS:  Did you have to give up your work on The Doctors to get involved in Dr. Wakefield’s documentary?

DB:  At that time, the show went into hiatus so I could lock into the project to research and call doctors to discuss it. More than one told me that I was making a career-ending move by aligning myself with Andy Wakefield.

RS:  Weren’t you concerned about that possibility? That you might be forever giving up such a great career that you obviously enjoyed?

DB:  If I decided to look the other way and not tell this story, and my kids or grandkids got sick, I’m not sure how I could live with myself.

When I watch Billy Tommey, I see the potential of so many. These kids weren’t injured by falling off the roof. They were injured because parents trusted their doctors. These kids lost the future they and their parents had every right to expect. And the rates of autism continue to skyrocket. This year, roughly 100,000 kids born will develop autism. Each year, we’re filling up a city the size of Athens, Georgia with kids diagnosed with autism. We can’t ignore what could lead to the demise of our society.

I’d always kept the parent stories I received while working on The Doctors in my mind.  Now we have a senior level CDC scientist telling us, “We lied,” about the safety of the MMR. The moment I looked at Dr. Thompson’s data, I knew I had to tell this story. If you see a wave of events like this and do nothing, that’s criminal.

I couldn’t not give up my job. If this is the last film I ever make, I’ll be okay.

RS:  What were your main objectives in producing Vaxxed?

DB:  I want the media to be held accountable for the weeks and weeks of covering a measles outbreak at Disneyland, terrifying people when only 644 people were affected.  That’s .000002% of the people in this country which effectively translates to zero, when one in 45 kids is now diagnosed with autism. I’d like the media to explain why it won’t cover the story of a top CDC scientist who admits they committed fraud on the MMR study when they discovered a causal link between the vaccine and autism, a disease that is accelerating so fast it could spell the end of our society.  If that’s not a story what is?

I also hope the film will be a tipping point that will allow tons of doctors to come forward and admit they’ve long known there’s a link between vaccines and autism. It should create questions among mainstream audiences about the whole nature of safety testing in medicine. Drugs have to undergo rigorous studies which are far more expensive than the limited safety work done with vaccines. I want parents to realize that their kids’ vaccines are not being appropriately studied—they haven’t been studied nearly as well as Viagra. We’ve been playing Russian roulette with the health of the children in this country.

RS:  Do you have any concerns about reactions or repercussions once the film is released?

DB:  My friends and colleagues who had gotten in my face about questioning vaccine safety have had the same reaction. Every single one of them has said, “Oh, my God. I had no idea.”

The reaction among parents is especially important. I’ve seen other documentaries that never really made it past the people who already know a lot of this information and they’re already upset. I don’t want to upset them further with a film that doesn’t do more than preach to the choir.

I think there will be a huge push from several directions that will say to people, “Don’t go into that theatre.”  But I think there are a lot of people that are sick and tired of being controlled by corporate interests.  They see it in their politics.  They see it in their GMO food.  They see it in their polluted water source.  They are over it.  These people will want to know why Andy Wakefield is still here working on the same issue.  They’ll want to know, as I did, why he didn’t just walk off into the sunset. They’re going to see that this is a man who’s been fighting for our kids, despite being vilified in the press and being called a “baby killer” all because he was actually listening to parents who were telling the same story: there was no autism before their children received vaccines. The fact that he was beginning to look into the concerns of parents ended his career.

Audiences will, I hope, be hit with the realization that one of the greatest scientific minds of our time was bold enough to stand up to collective science and suffered for it, much like others throughout history.  Remember that Galileo was imprisoned for putting forth the notion that the earth revolved around the sun, which of course was later confirmed. I have to wonder if we’re ever going to stop this pattern of trying to silence the best minds that we have.

One of the most important things I’ve learned through this process, and that I think the film reflects, is that the parents involved are true heroes.  They go through unimaginable difficulties as they care for children whose lives have essentially been taken away from them, even as the lies about vaccine safety continue. But the truth will ultimately come out.  It’s just a matter of time.


Before the credits roll at the end of Vaxxed, viewers are asked for help in ensuring that our federally elected officials do the right thing by our nation’s children.

For the sake of our children, contact your political leaders and demand the following:

  1. That Congress subpoena Dr. William Thompson and investigate the CDC fraud.
  2. That Congress repeal the 1986 National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act and hold manufacturers liable for injury caused by their vaccines.
  3. That the single measles, mumps, and rubella vaccines be made available immediately.
  4. That all vaccines be classified as pharmaceutical drugs and be tested accordingly.

For more information, go to vaxxedthemovie.com


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Vaccine Whistleblower

Vaccine Whistleblower book cover single pate

A CDC insider’s account of research fraud within the agency highlights deceit and corruption in making vaccine/autism links disappear…

Interview by Polly Tommey, Editor-in-Chief

As anyone who has been following the developments regarding links between autism and vaccines can confirm, there’s an ongoing near-blackout in the media when it comes to issues of vaccine safety and our government’s handling of autism research. In his new book, Vaccine Whistleblower: Exposing Autism Research Fraud at the CDC (Skyhorse Publishing), Kevin Barry presents the transcripts of recorded conversations between autism parent and researcher Dr. Brian Hooker and CDC senior scientist Dr. William W. Thompson regarding the inner workings of CDC autism research. With a preface by Dr. Boyd E. Haley and a foreword by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Vaccine Whistleblower leaves no room for doubt that the American public has been deceived about the safety and efficacy of vaccines. Autism File Editor-in-Chief Polly Tommey recently had the opportunity to visit with author Kevin Barry to discuss the book as well as the ramifications of Dr. Thompson’s revelations to Dr. Hooker.
Polly Tommey: Can you tell our readers a little about yourself and explain how you got involved in writing Vaccine Whistleblower?
Kevin Barry: I’m an autism parent. My middle son Griffin regressed into an autism diagnosis at age two in the year 2000, and I’ve been an advocate ever since. I was the first president of Generation Rescue and am currently co-president of the Elizabeth Birt Center for Autism Law and Advocacy (EBCALA). I’m a United Nations representative for an environmental health non-governmental organization and a former federal lawyer.
I became involved in a project which led to writing Vaccine Whistleblower after I was sent the transcripts of the phone calls (and the audio recordings) by Dr. Brian Hooker in the hope that I could help bring public attention to this story through media contacts. I have relationships with a few reporters who have covered the topic for years. Reporters have hardly scratched the surface of this story. Writing the book is a means towards getting Thompson’s revelations about the culture of corruption at the CDC the attention the story deserves.

PT: I’ve read this book and have to say, having a vaccine-injured son myself and knowing thousands of other families in the same situation, this was a very emotional read for me. Getting confirmation of the CDC corruption I’ve long suspected was powerful. What has been the response so far from parents who have read your book?
KB: It was emotional for me to read the transcripts the first time I went through them. I don’t cry easily, but it got to me. To learn that the CDC was even more corrupt than we previously thought was astonishing, because I already thought they were very corrupt. Dr. Hooker and J.B. Handley worked on a project for Generation Rescue which resulted in a website named putchildrenfirst.org in 2006. I strongly recommend that parents access this website where they can read further about the corruption discussed in Vaccine Whistleblower. While my schedule hasn’t left me room to attend conferences for in-person feedback, the comments I’ve been receiving on social media and via email is a mixture of sadness and anger, as you would expect.

PT: Can you tell our readers the basics of how the CDC committed fraud in its research as described by Dr. Thompson?
KB: As Dr. Thompson tells Dr. Hooker, the CDC knows that no one holds them accountable on vaccine safety research. That’s how the agency gets away with rampant corruption. There is no leadership from the White House, and Congressional oversight is a joke.
To continue reading, click here.

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The Horrors of Halloween Candy

The toxins in most traditional treats make them a no-no, especially for kids
on the spectrum…

By Dr. Lisa Sulsenti

Halloween background with silhouettes of children trick or treating in Halloween costume

Halloween background with silhouettes of children trick or treating in Halloween costume



Trick or Treat?

I am here to answer this seasonal never-ending question.

Wait for it…

We are being tricked with our treats!

That’s right. Many adored conventional candies are made with toxic harmful
ingredients.  I use to love conventional candy just as much as the next
person. In fact, I love chocolate. Call me a chocoholic if you must, but
when I began to research what really was in many of my beloved chocolate
treats, I was disgusted.

And, having three sons (one on the autism spectrum), I had to make sure we
avoided conventional sweets since many  harmful ingredients are linked to
health problems such as tumors, attention deficits, hyperactivity, behavior
and neurological problems. Crazy, I know.

Don’t worry. After I show you what is in many conventional candies and why
you must avoid them, I will provide you with delicious non-toxic
replacements. Let’s look at the good, the bad and the ugly, starting off
with the ugly!

GMO Ingredients
A genetically modified organism is an organism whose genetic material has
been altered using genetic engineering techniques. Many crops today are
genetically modified and used in our foods and drinks. When I am teaching
patients how to read labels, I have them identify ingredients that may be
derived from possible GMO sources such as glucose, dextrose, maltose,
fructose, highly processed high fructose corn syrup, corn starches and other
sugar variants (as well as, corn, soy and wheat).

According to Professor Gilles-Eric Seralini’s study on genetically-modified
(GM) corn treated with Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, Monsanto’s NK603 GM
maize variety and Roundup herbicide, led to kidney and liver damage. GMOs
have also been linked to serious health problems such as tumors in rats. The
NON GMO PROJECT <http://www.nongmoproject.org/>  list is a great tool to
know which products are safe to purchase as GMO- free. Lifesaving,

To continue reading, click here.

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The Autism and Allergy Overlap

ASD and food allergy rates have risen dramatically—and they often go hand in hand…

The food allergy and autism communities generally seen as separate groups have more in common than they may realize.  One has only to look at the meteoric rise of both epidemics in the last 20 years to wonder if they are connected.  In fact, I contend that they are the same story with the same causes and overlapping symptoms but with different outcomes. It is as though one overwhelmed child turned left while the other turned right.

Children with life threatening food allergies often have a “mixed bag” of health concerns that can include ADHD, environmental sensitivities and gut inflammation.  Typically, parents of these children pay such close attention to the food anaphylaxis that these “lesser” issues are often dismissed or medicated away.  And yet, if we view this mixed bag as a collection of meaningful symptoms, a very different picture emerges.  This picture mirrors that of many children on the spectrum.

In “The Function of Allergy: an immunological defense against toxins” (1991), Margie Profet confirms that any mammal overwhelmed and unable to detoxify will defend itself with allergy. This evolved defense is designed to expel the toxin(s) as fast as possible by sneezing, vomiting, itching or to prevent it from circulating by a drop in blood pressure.

Toxic exposures—any combination from air, food, water, drugs, pathogens, or vaccines—that precipitate the allergies can also result in a host of other health issues.  The so-called “neuro-typical” (NT) kids with severe food allergies are not NT at all if we ask additional questions about fine or gross motor skills, unusual “gifts”, attention deficit, rage, sensory processing issues, hyperactivity and more.

By illuminating the ground shared by the food allergy kids and children on the spectrum, a broader collective awareness may emerge.  This awareness will bring greater pressure to bear on addressing causes and forcing change.

The “A” words

Like the word “autism”, allergy and anaphylaxis were coined early in the 20th century. These last two were created to describe reactions to sera administered for the first time in history using the hypodermic syringe.  When children began to fall violently ill following the use of this new technology, doctors scrambled to understand why.  Pediatrician Clemens von Pirquet in 1906 saw the symptoms as an “altered reactivity” or allergyAnaphylaxis “against protection” was coined by Charles Richet around 1913 to describe the condition he created in animals during immunization experiments.

Autism was coined by a Swiss psychiatrist in 1912 and Asperger’s after the work of Hans Asperger in the 1930s. Leo Kanner in the 1940s provided a foundation for understanding the environmental causes of autism.

Food allergies and autism in children increased slowly until about 1990 at which time their prevalence abruptly accelerated.

The first wave of affected children

It seemed to happen almost overnight about 20 years ago.  Something changed suddenly at the same time in many Western countries to make scores of children terribly unwell:

  • Food anaphylaxis:  severe food allergy increased abruptly in children, but just in certain Western countries including Australia (ACT), the US, Canada, and the UK.  School teachers provided eye witness accounts of the sudden surge of severely allergic children who arrived for kindergarten in the early 90s.  The timing is confirmed by hospital ER records.  UK cohort studies indicated that peanut allergy in preschoolers had doubled in just four years through the early 1990s, from about 1% to over 3%.
  • Autism:  in the early 1990s, increasing reports of autism alerted the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  One startling report of a “cluster” of autism in Brick Township, New Jersey drew the attention of the CDC in 1997.[i]  Children born in the late 1980s and early 90s were most affected. A steep increase in autism was noted at this time also in the UK, Canada, and Australia.

Continued rise

This was the beginning of what are now epidemics of life threatening food allergies and autism.  In the US, one in 13 children (8%) have food allergies with one in 40 (2.5%, 1.8 million) being life threatening. Childhood peanut/tree nut allergies tripled between 1997 and 2008 from .6% to 2.1%.[i] There has been a 265% rise in food allergy hospitalization among children (CDC).

Autism has spiked 1,500% in the last 20 years. One in 88 children is on the spectrum: 825,000 in the US; 89,000 in Canada; 131,000 in the UK.

Food/substance triggers

Many severely food allergic children have atopy—allergies causing eczema, asthma and behavior issues.  Food allergies are the main causes of ADHD according to a 2001 study in the Lancet.[iii] The opiate effect of dairy and wheat proteins on some children is well documented. Unrecognized allergies to chemicals, molds and more can also cause behavioral changes.

It is not known how many children on the spectrum have severe allergy, but most avoid certain foods that make other symptoms worse. The worst of these according to Kenneth Bock, MD in Healing the New Childhood Epidemics (2007) are dairy, chocolate, yeast-growing foods, gluten and casein.  Allergies and Autism (2010) by Michael Dochniak tells the story of a boy with multiple allergies who regressed after an anaphylactic reaction to latex.  The role of allergy in autism can be profound and individual.


Allergy and anaphylaxis function to defend the body against acute toxicity.  The body may risk death to defend itself against perceived certain death.

Children on the spectrum can exhibit defensiveness.  Cari Neal in “Tactile Defensiveness and Patterns of Social Behavior in Autism” (1997)[iv] explains that social withdrawal functions to limit tactile stimulation. Temple Grandin, quoted by Neal, confirms that for her, withdrawal is a defense from a “tidal wave of stimulation.”

Gender and age of onset

In 1944, Hans Asperger believed that girls were unaffected by the syndrome he described although he later revised his conclusion.  The gender gap is as high as 10:1 for Asperger’s, and 4:1 for autism.  In 1964, Bernard Rimland observed that boys tended to be more vulnerable to “organic damage” than girls.

Studies on peanut allergic children reveal that twice as many boys have the condition than do girls.

Many parents see the 18 month mark or before the age of two as a point of change or regression for children on the autism spectrum.

The general age of onset for life threatening peanut allergy (the first reaction) has been declining: from 24 months of age for kids born between 1995 and 1997; 21 months for those born before 2000; and for those after 2000, it is now about 14 months of age.

GI tract damage – gut-brain axis

Since Charles Richet’s 1913 Nobel Prize winning research, allergists have defaulted to the idea that food allergy is caused by digestive failure, or a “leaky” gut.  Or it was, until the explosion of food anaphylaxis in children starting around 1990. It seemed impossible that gut failure could occur on such a scale and so suddenly.

The gut is integral to the immune system and the brain.  Also called the “second brain” because it is connected by millions of neurons to the central nervous system, the gut will react immediately when challenged by toxin or trauma:

In cases of extreme stress … the higher brain seems to protect the gut by sending signals to immunological mast cells in the plexus. The mast cells secrete histamine, prostaglandin and other agents that help produce inflammation. This is protective. By inflaming the gut, the brain is priming the [it] for surveillance.[v]

The bystander effect occurs when compounds in the body/gut at the time or moment of the extreme stress become targets for allergic sensitization.

And it goes without explanation that children on the spectrum struggle greatly with gut inflammation.  What could have the power to provoke this so early in the lives of hundreds of thousands of children?


Many following allergy and autism debates believe that both epidemics are man-made.  And the medical community appears ready at last to consider this within the “hygiene hypothesis”:

The leading theory is about hygiene – with less infection thanks to city living, smaller families, vaccines, sanitation, antibiotics, etc., the immune system is less ‘busy’ with germs and may become more prone to attack harmless food proteins.

~ Dr. Scott Sicherer, pediatrics professor at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York (Sept. 12, 2012)[vi]

The hygiene hypothesis suggests that vaccination, antibiotics and bug-killing products have unhinged the immune systems of children. Humans have co-evolved with microbes and gut parasites/worms, and without them are vulnerable to inflammatory disorders.  Our bug-free, vaccine obsessed, pesticide loving Western existence appears to have doomed us to allergy and autism.

Yes, the hygiene hypothesis has entered the discussion on causes of autism. A 2007 Medical Hypotheses article by K. Becker suggests that immune pathways affected by western hygienic practices may impact brain structure or function contributing to autism. Becker mentions “immunization” in this light but in confessing its “controversial” nature does not pursue it.

Clarifying the matter is historical fact.  The abrupt rise of allergy and autism around 1990 coincided with reforms to the pediatric vaccination schedules of many Western countries.

In 1986, the US National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act in essence de-regulated vaccination:  no one could sue a vaccine maker without government approval.  Largely relieved then of liability, manufacturers moved to meet government demand addressing new “diseases of priority” established by the US Institute of Medicine.

Increases to the vaccine schedule in many Western countries began in 1987 with the Haemophilus influenza type B (Hib) vaccine.  By 1991, doctors did not hesitate to give this new conjugate vaccine to two-month-old children simultaneously with vaccines for diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, and polio.  This move was unprecedented.  In that year, more than 17 million doses of Hib vaccine were sold in the US alone.  In 1992, additional doses of combination vaccines were included in the schedule.  Hib was a revenue-generating “blockbuster product” according to a 1998 WHO publication.

At the same time, coverage rates for vaccination soared. Between 1993 and 1995, the Clinton administration’s Childhood Immunization Initiative provided federal funds aimed at 90% coverage of all infants. Vaccination became a requirement before entry into many preschools and daycare centers.  By 1997-98, childhood vaccination rates reached record highs.  Canada, the UK, and AU followed the American example.

In 1983, US children received 22 doses of vaccines (combined or single) for seven diseases (two months to age six). Today in the US, children receive up to 48 doses of vaccines for 14 diseases starting at birth to age six.

Unsustainable practices:  Hib

The Hib, within an intense schedule that includes five-vaccines-at-once, has been the last straw in my opinion, tipping scores of children into peanut allergy.

Where the DPT-IPV with Hib is used en masse, peanut allergy follows: first in Western countries including the UK, the US, Canada, and ACT Australia, then after 2001 following its use with high coverage rates in Tasmania, Hong Kong, Singapore and most recently India.[vii]

Hib plays a role in autism according to Brian Richmand in “Hypothesis, Conjugate vaccines may predispose children to autism spectrum disorders”. Richmand suggests that the five-in-one with Hib has interfered with nerve myelin in the brain:

This period of hypo-responsiveness to carbohydrate antigens coincides with the intense myelination process in infants and young children, and conjugate vaccines may have disrupted evolutionary forces that favored early brain development over the need to protect infants and young children from capsular bacteria. [viii]

Richmand further suggests that girls who received this vaccine carry antibodies that have the potential to damage nerve myelin and result in autism in their children.

Undeniable disaster … leads to disaster capitalism

In “Save the children (and make money)” published in The Wall Street Journal (2009), writer James Altucher noted the massive rise in the last two decades in peanut allergy, asthma and more among children.  The kids are sick and getting sicker, Altucher observed.  So, he thought an “Autoimmune Index” would be a good idea:

Such an index would consist of the best mix of stocks that have good lower multiples that will supply the arms in our ongoing war against autoimmune diseases.[ix]

Altucher lists the drugs created for these conditions, their manufacturers, the status of their stocks and their billion dollar profits.  And then without slowing he offers possible causes for the pediatric epidemics:

The increase in autoimmune illnesses and allergies in children may be due to high exposure to antibiotics and vaccines at an early age… 

Are the products causing the epidemics made by the same companies now making the remedies?  It seems investors can make money at both ends of the epidemics.

This is disaster capitalism.

Moving forward

The century old pattern of increasing drug and vaccine consumption in Western countries has meant profit for some but devastation for many more.  The autism community is aware of the conflicted interests that underpin this pattern and the autism epidemic.  And parents of anaphylactic children are listening. The stories of autism and life threatening food allergy are the same, with shared causes and overlapping symptoms.  The “mixed bag” kids with life threatening food allergy are a mirror that, as dark as it is, brings with it millions of families equally worried about the health of their children.

With a growing awareness of the ground these communities share, my hope isthat they will connect meaningfully to force change leading to prevention of these serious — and altogether avoidable — health issues.

[i] M. Blaxill and D. Olmsted, Age of Autism (NY, Thomas Dunne, 2010).

[ii] Sicherer, et al., “US prevalence of self-reported peanut, tree nut and sesame allergy: 11-year follow-up,” JACI, Vol. 125, No. 6 (June, 2010): 1322-1326.

[iii] L. Pelsser, et al., “Effects of a restricted elimination diet on the behaviour of children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (INCA study): a randomized controlled trial,” The Lancet, Vol. 377, (Feb. 2011): 494-503. http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(10)62227-1/abstract

[iv] Cari Neal “Tactile Defensiveness and Patterns of Social Behavior in Autism,” (Illinois Wesleyan University, 1997).  http://digitalcommons.iwu.edu/psych_honproj/66/

[v] R.M. King, professor, Northern Virginia Community College, Virginia http://www.psyking.net/id36.htm

[vi] http://www.foxnews.com/health/2012/09/12/peanut-allergies-seen-on-rise/#ixzz28eyzSyF7

[vii] H. Fraser, The Peanut Allergy Epidemic (NY, Skyhorse, 2011) pp. 124-126.

[viii] B. Richmand, “Hypothesis, Conjugate vaccines may predispose children to autism spectrum disorders,” Medical Hypotheses, Vol. 77, No. 6 (Dec., 2011): 940-7.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21993250

[ix] James Altucher, “Save the children (and make money)” The Wall Street Journal (Mon. Aug. 10, 2009) http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124992390387319939.html


Heather Fraser is the author of The Peanut Allergy Epidemic: what’s causing it and how to stop it (NY, Skyhorse, 2011).  She is a Toronto-based writer and holistic health practitioner.  Her son, now 18, was diagnosed with peanut allergy in 1995. Find out more at heatherfraser.org  and  peanutallergyepidemic.com.



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The Power of Fermented Foods

Beneficial bacteria support healthy digestion, the immune system, and overall health… 

Fermented foods are a wonderful addition to your family’s diet, especially for children with autism. Fermented foods are rich in good bacteria and have many supportive functions for good digestion and overall health.

Digestive issues are common in autism spectrum disorders. Studies have shown increased prevalence of intestinal and digestive problems, including abnormal stool (diarrhea and constipation), intestinal inflammation, and reduced enzyme function.

There are many causes for these imbalances—one that can create an imbalance is the use of antibiotics. While they are often necessary to kill off bad “bugs,” these lifesaving drugs also wipe out the good bacteria in the gut, which wreaks havoc on the entire digestive system. When the good bacteria are eliminated, pathogenic organisms such as yeast and bad bacteria can take hold, creating inflammation and inhibiting digestion which can result in poor nutrient absorption and food reactions.

Beneficial bacteria, the type found in fermented foods, help colonize the digestive tract. Replenishing these beneficial bacteria, also referred to as “probiotics,” is essential. However, most people (and particularly children) don’t eat enough of the foods that supply these beneficial bacteria and help them to thrive. Even though many children consume yogurt and a few families might include sauerkraut, these are not the traditional varieties our grandparents used to make. Instead, they are typically the commercial varieties that have been pasteurized and are devoid of these good bacteria.

Cultural Considerations

We have ten times as much bacteria as we have cells in our bodies, and we cannot thrive (or even survive) without these good bacteria with which we live synergistically. We have evolved getting these good bacteria on a consistent basis.

For generations, fermentation was the only way to keep food fresh without refrigeration and during cold winters. Cultures around the world all included fermented foods, often on a daily basis, which ensured the intestinal tract would be populated with good bacteria. We also would eat vegetables straight from the ground, and get some good bacteria that way. There was no pasteurization, no antibacterial soaps, no antibiotics to strip these life-giving bacteria from our system.

Today, we do not get these good bacteria. Antibiotics wipe out the good bacteria as well as the bad. Our fear of “germs” has caused us to use antibacterial soaps and sanitizers. We rarely eat these traditionally cultured foods.

While, as a culture, we have moved away from these good fermented foods, you can still serve them to your family, even when you are dairy-free. Many products are available in the store and online, and others can be made fairly easily at home – the old fashioned way. The following are some of the more common forms of fermented foods, both non-dairy and dairy options, with suggestions for serving them to your family.

Beneficial Bacteria Functions

Good bacteria bolster health in many ways: they support digestive and elimination function, break down toxins and used substances, support immune function, and produce helpful compounds to support good health.

Digestion and elimination Good bacteria digest lactose and break down protein into amino acids. These bacteria regulate peristalsis and bowel movements. They also balance intestinal pH. Adequate levels of beneficial flora in mothers help infants establish good digestion.

Break down toxins and used substances Beneficial bacteria break down harmful substances from the environment as well as substances our bodies produce that are “spent” or no longer necessary, such as bile acids and used hormones. Good bacteria break down the bacterial toxins created from harmful bacteria. They protect us against toxins like mercury, pesticides, and radiation.

Support the immune system Good bacteria produce antibiotic and antifungal substances that prevent colonization and growth of bad bacteria and yeast/fungus. Probiotics support the immune system and increase the number of immune cells. They have anti-tumor and anti-cancer properties. Probiotics also reduce inflammation and food reactions.

Produce helpful compounds to support good health Good bacteria produce vitamins that our bodies need such as B vitamins, vitamin A, and vitamin K. Probiotics produce essential fatty acids, specifically short chain fatty acids, which support gut health. Probiotics promote healthy metabolism, and help normalize serum cholesterol and triglycerides.

Fermented Food Options

Fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, and raw sauerkraut contain live bacteria that are so important for good digestion and health.

Yogurt and Kefir: Yogurt is the most popular fermented food. Yogurt and kefir, most commonly made from dairy, are excellent sources of good bacteria. Kefir is similar to yogurt, but easier to pour and contains a
culture of good bacteria and beneficial yeast, which is particularly helpful for combating Candida (pathogenic yeast) overgrowth.

Of course, for people following a casein-free diet, dairy-based fermented foods are out. There are also non-dairy forms of yogurt and kefir. You can buy coconut yogurt and make homemade yogurt from nut and seed milk like almond milk. I do not recommend soy or soy yogurt because of their inflammatory (and other deleterious) properties. Like creamy dairy-based kefir, some people make non-dairy kefir from coconut milk.

Young coconut kefir is a great alternative for those who cannot tolerate dairy. Unlike creamy kefir made from coconut milk, young coconut kefir is made from coconut water and is a fizzy soda-like beverage. Young coconut kefir tastes pretty good; most kids like it and will drink it. You can make it yourself or buy it commercially.

Lacto-fermented vegetables. Raw sauerkraut and kim chi are both types of cultured or fermented vegetables. All cultured foods have a sour taste, a by-product of the acidic bacteria. You can really experience this with raw sauerkraut—which is very sour. While it took me a while to fully enjoy it, it grows on you and the sour flavor becomes very enjoyable. Some children love sauerkraut and its sour taste; others (especially those that don’t like vegetables) need some time to get used to it.

Kombucha is a cultured drink that is catching on very quickly among health conscious individuals. It’s delicious and kids love it. Kombucha is often mislabeled as “mushroom tea,” leading people to believe it is some sort of mushroom boiled and made into a tea. Not true. It is a brew of sweetened black or green tea that is naturally fermented with a culture of bacteria and beneficial yeast. The bacteria and yeast feed on the sugar and convert it into beneficial components (probiotics, enzymes, amino and organic acids, etc.) that aid digestion, detoxification, immune function, cellular metabolism, and more. Commercial varieties are available in health food stores by the bottle, or you can purchase a starter kit online to brew your own at home.


Eat bacteria and recover from autism?

By Jane Casey

Some families are seeing remarkable improvements through a diet focused on fermented foods. . .

The good bacteria that reside throughout the intestinal tract account for 70% of the body’s immune system. They help detoxify carcinogens, stimulate the bowels, improve the assimilation of nutrients and vitamins (digestion) and synthesize vitamins like K and a few of the B vitamins.

Good health is to a very large degree dependent on a well-functioning digestive tract. Digestion is the process of changing food into a form that the body can absorb into the blood, nourish cells, and provide energy. Of all the bodily functions, digestion has the greatest influence on our mental state.

I have 13-year-old twin boys who were diagnosed with autism at age two-and-a-half. Today they no longer have that label and I am convinced that the good bacteria saved us from a life of poor health and pain.

We began eating lacto-fermented foods several years ago when my kids were very sick. They were non-verbal, had blue circles under their eyes, big bellies and flapped their hands a lot. They went from eating three things a day (all carbs) to eating vegetables—even foods with weird textures. Today, they eat everything and don’t gag at the site of certain foods. Yippee! That was a big hurdle to climb. Thank you, fermented foods and God.

My kids’ introduction to fermented foods began with me feeding them 1/2 teaspoon of cabbage on a spoon as I chased them around the house until they conceded and ate the cabbage. The more fermented foods the boys ate, the more focused, calm and verbal they became. We continue to eat these foods today on a regular basis. For more information on fermenting and our family’s success, visit us at: janecaseyskitchen.com.


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Parent-Powered Therapies

Do-it-yourself creativity can turn your home into an effective therapy center, saving you money and strengthening bonds with your ASD child…

My ten-year-old son has been in some form of therapy weekly for the last eight years.  From physical therapy to speech, occupational, behavioral and social skills, Ronan has logged thousands of hours of therapy.  It’s been a way of life for him and will likely continue to be that way for some time.

Here, There, And Everywhere

Ronan has four typical siblings, and I was somewhat taken aback when his six-year-old sister was recently referred for vision therapy.  As Ronan’s needs have taken over much of our family’s time and energy, I was unprepared to carve more time in our full calendar to shuttle Izzy to and from therapy three days a week.  However, therapy would reduce her vision issues and academic struggles that crept up last year, so getting her where she needed to be was exactly what I’d do.

Taking two kids several days a week here, there and everywhere is taxing not only on the kids but on our schedule, finances and emotions.  We juggle so much already, so finding supplemental, inexpensive therapy ideas that we could do at home to benefit both Ronan and Izzy was my goal.  As I don’t have the professional background our therapists do, I asked them for advice before starting home-based activities.  I didn’t want to hinder or interrupt any skills my children were developing.

To follow through with the kids’ therapy “homework” and to work within a reasonable budget, I borrowed books and supplies from our therapists and borrowed college library books because of the wide selection and current titles.  I got ideas from therapy-specific magazines and catalogs, and looked up websites with “For Parent” sections that described therapies, target skills, and areas to be developed in simple terms.  There was a great deal of information on setting up a home environment and applying therapeutic goals to foster effective, successful learning moments.

Home Sweet Home

Activities that we’ve been able to replicate were just a few household items away!  Izzy’s vision therapy hones in on eye-hand coordination, focusing close up, and following directions.  Much of it is very similar to Ronan’s occupational therapy.  We’ve had fun popping bubble wrap (office supply stores have this in large rolls) and using tweezers to transfer dried beans into small containers.

Anytime we can get food involved is also fun:  skewering grapes on shish-kabob sticks, stringing popcorn on string (or fishing line if you need something sturdier), and picking up marshmallows with toothpicks.  Use an ice cube tray to serve snacks so your child practices fine-motor and eye-hand coordination.  Most of those activities can be quickly set up, are readily available and easily cleaned up.

I usually tell my children that they can’t throw their toys unless they’re outside playing with balls.  Playing a bean bag toss game with their small stuffed animals (if you don’t have an actual bean bag) is fun because it bends a regular rule and can add an element of competition.  Your target can be a large mixing bowl or a hula hoop.  Depending on the child’s ability, you can place the hula hoop right at their feet or scoot it farther away with each toss.  Then hold the hula hoop in the air so your child focuses their toss at a different angle, speed and trajectory.  Take a step back with each successful toss.  If your child loves a challenge, keep score!

Set up a therapy corner with shelves that house separate bins full of manipulatives which you can rotate out after several weeks to maintain interest:

  • small chalkboards and chalk
  • play dough and cookie cutters
  • scissors and paper of varying thickness
  • tracing and lacing cards
  • therapy dough (great for hiding small LEGOs in!)
  • beads for stringing
  • stamps and stamp pads
  • dominoes
  • picture cards for matching
  • clothes pins
  • pipe cleaners
  • magnetic board and magnets
  • dress-up bin to practice donning and doffing clothes.

Expand Your Options

To maximize the potential benefits of in-home therapy, consider alterations to accommodate various activities.  We’ve done this several times over the years having installed swings and a pull up bar, and created space for a home-made wooden balance beam.  We’ve also brought in a small blow-up wading pool and filled it with plastic balls, and found a used mini trampoline for sensory input.  An in-home obstacle course is one of the most exciting activities we do inside after rearranging some of the furniture.  We then bring out tunnels, a small plastic slide, a pop-up house and sometimes even use the pillows from the couch!

The entire house—including the walls—have therapeutic potential.  Chalkboard paint and shower board (found at home improvement stores) foster creativity and a host of ideas:  play Tic Tac Toe or Pictionary.  Practice how to make the basic lines of the letters (horizontal, vertical, circular, slash), numbers and shapes.  Or just enjoy drawing together.

Real Help—Without Breaking The Bank

Therapy on a budget is quite doable.  Many items found in several rooms in your home can serve a different purpose.  Think about how they are typically used, then look at the objects again and ask, “What else can I do with these?”  If it can be lifted, squeezed, dropped into, counted, or sorted, then you have already cut your costs.  If you find that you don’t have anything useful for therapy, make a list of what you’d like to have.  Then, go to thrift stores or the clearance rack of department stores and start hunting for deals.

Check out websites like Freecycle or Craig’s List for specific items for which you won’t pay full price.  Don’t forget about the library!  Some libraries will have puzzles, themed kits, videos and games to loan. Swap therapy ideas and supplies with a friend.  Look on Pinterest for ideas on how to make your own games and projects.  Not only will you save money that might have been spent on formal therapy, but you and your child will have fun interacting as he learns important new skills.

Take It Outside

Anytime you can transfer activities outside is great.  A change in scenery, being able to use gross-motor movement and getting some natural sunshine are great benefits of being outdoors.  Blow bubbles, chase them and pop them.  Use a jump rope the traditional way or pretend it’s a tightrope walking on it as it lays flat on the ground.  Pull or push a wagon filled with different objects to give it some weight.  Play hopscotch, Simon Says, Mother May I, Red Rover and Hide and Seek.  You’ll surely share some giggles and can foster basic back-and-forth play while creating good memories.

Fine motor skills activities can even be brought outside.  Set up a water table in the yard with different objects and test if they sink or float.  If you can’t afford a water table that the pricey toy catalogs sell, take a plastic storage bin and fill it with water. Use different-sized measuring cups to transfer water using the dominant hand to pour at the beginning of the activity, and then switch to the non-dominant hand at the end.  Add sponges to the game.  Soak the sponge and then ask your child to squeeze it—use only the fingertips at first.  Switch hands to work on strengthening both.

When the water play is done, keep the water in the tub and use paintbrushes to “paint” the house, the fence, the driveway or sidewalk.  Use up and down, left to right movement always trying to cross the midline.  “Paint” letters, numbers, sight words, and shapes.  Keep a spray bottle close by when playing with the water table, too.  You can spray “paint” trees, flowers, and bushes as your child strengthens his hand muscles.  Have him aim for certain parts of objects, use sweeping motions left to right and up and down; make vertical and horizontal lines and again, try to cross the midline.  When dry, put other sensory-type items in the tub:  noodles, rice, beach sand, cotton balls or beads.  Use different-sized plastic containers and ladles, stirring or measuring spoons, tongs and strainers that you probably already have in the kitchen.

While still outside, plan for a picnic.  If your child has a poor memory recall, hand him the items one at a time after playing a labeling game, saying “I’m going to give you something that we put the juice in.”  Once he guesses “cup” correctly, hand it to him and ask him to grab it with his non-dominant hand.  Have your child set the items in a pattern:  cup, plate, napkin and repeat.  If he needs help putting things in the right spot, use direction words:  next to, in front of, to the left of, or to the right of.  Take turns passing the snack items out to practice social skills and good manners.

After eating and cleaning up, take some confetti (either store-bought or keep it simple and use hole-punched paper) and toss it into a small section of grass.  Ask your child to find 10 pieces before you count (jazz it up and count backwards from a certain number).  They can use their fingers, tweezers or tongs to find the pieces.  Have a small lidded plastic butter tub (cut the lid so it has a slit like a piggy bank).  As your child collects the small bits of confetti, he transfers the confetti into the tub.  You can also use a tennis ball, making a slit about 2 inches long.  The ball will have to be squeezed (start with the fingertips) in order to open the slit to deposit the confetti inside.  If your child likes a challenge, set a timer and ask him to collect a certain amount of confetti in under one minute.

If formal therapy isn’t an option for parents of children 0-3 years of age, investigate services through the local Early Intervention program.  School-age homeschooled children may qualify for funding for therapy through the local school district.  Call your district’s special education or related services department to find out more.  If you live near a university, ask the department head of the psychology, speech and language, physical therapy, occupational therapy services or education departments if they offer reduced cost therapy session opportunities.  Keep in mind that students in training would be paired with your child so make sure you are comfortable with working with an unlicensed (yet supervised) student.  Parents can also learn from observing a trained therapist in the clinical setting.  I’ve often been invited into the therapy room, or observed through a two-way mirrored window, in order to keep up-to-date with my children’s therapy progress.


Biomedical Treatments On A Budget

By Holly Bortfeld 

Many treatments that are effective and safe for people with ASD are often not covered by insurance, but please don’t let that stop you from trying treatments that can help your children down the path to health and wellness.

1. Educate yourself.  Learn how to research treatments and determine if the chances are good that your child will respond.

Read books, websites and use the medical libraries free at your local hospitals. Read about treatments, lab tests, and information you wish to discuss prior to your doctor appointments.

2. Know your child. Keep copies of all medical records. Learn what the external signs of conditions look like in your child so you can report and treat them properly.

Create a profile for your child through his/her test results and responses to treatments.  Keep a journal when trying new treatments of any kind. Keep copies of every lab test, doctor appointment, therapist report, school report, IEP, etc.

3. Use your insurance for all doctors and labs possible. Code treatments for the actual condition, not the autism umbrella.

Unfortunately, not all doctors accept insurance, especially in autism. Explain to the doctor that you need to use insurance-covered labs whenever possible, not the boutique/specialty labs unless there is a really good reason and then they need to limit those to fit your budget. If the doctor is not willing to work with you on this, you might need to consider finding another physician.

4. Use your state’s Medicaid or waiver programs to cover what the insurance company doesn’t.

Medicaid programs usually will not cover any autism “specialists,” tests or treatments, but they will generally pick up co-pays for visits and prescriptions and lab tests performed at hospitals.

5. Find out if your insurance will cover compounded vitamins and supplements. Start with trial-sized bottles of vitamins first to see if your child will tolerate them before you spend a lot of money.

Some insurance companies will cover vitamins and supplements if you have them compounded into liquids or powders to fit a prescription from a physician. Ask about trial sizes too.

6. Cook your own special diet foods. Cook from scratch, or like people used to cook before stuff came in boxes.

Do you remember seeing your grandma cook dinner when you came to visit?  There were no boxes.  Just real, whole foods.  Cook a meat, a vegetable, and a starch per meal.  It’s much cheaper than anything pre-made or partially prepared.

7. Never start more than one treatment, of any kind, within a two to three week period.

If there’s a problem, you need to know what is causing it. By trying one treatment at a time, you’ll know exactly if that one new treatment is causing the reaction (good or bad) rather than stopping everything and starting all over again if there are too many treatments and responses/reactions in your child to track.

8. Get your local insurance-covered pediatrician to rewrite the MAPS (see Find Out More, right) doctor scripts so that your insurance will cover them.

If you must use a specialty doctor that isn’t on your insurance plan, or a specialty lab, find out if your insurance covered physician is willing to rewrite the prescriptions so that your insurance will cover the tests and/or treatments.

9. Don’t keep wasting time and money on any doctor or treatment if you are not seeing results.

Just because a doctor says, “Ninety percent of my kids do well with this,” doesn’t mean your child will be one of that 90%. If you feel like your child is doing poorly with a treatment, don’t be afraid to tell your doctor you want to discontinue the treatment.

10. Find creative ways to pay for your biomedical program

Hold bake sales, use bartering, grants, family gifts, etc. and write it all off on your taxes.


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Life’s a Beach!

Autism parents relax, reconnect and recharge at the  annual National Autism Conference

Warm breezes. Cool, white powdery sand between your toes. The sound of waves and seagulls. Sipping a cool umbrella drink while watching a fiery orange sky as the sun sinks slowly beneath the sea.

This might sound like the ideal vacation, but it’s also exactly what you’ll find at the National Autism Conference (NAC) hosted annually by the National Autism Association (NAA) in sunny Florida.

A Chance To Unwind

The TradeWinds Island Resort on St. Pete Beach near Tampa, Florida has been the site of the conference for two years and rave reviews from attendees have ensured the conference will remain there for the foreseeable future. This year’s event is scheduled for November 8-11 when the average temperature is a mild 80 degrees and where the average guest is smiling and relaxed.

“For us, the National Autism Conference is about providing not just an exceptional educational opportunity, but an affordable, fun and relaxed experience, “ says Wendy Fournier, President of the National Autism Association and mother of an affected child. “Every detail of the event is meticulously planned with the intent to send our attendees home feeling rejuvenated, refreshed and hopeful.”

TradeWinds, upon learning they would host NAC for the first time in 2010, wasted no time in preparing for families affected by autism. Collaborating with the Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (CARD), they sent 150 of their resort staff members for specialized training on autism, developed social stories for guests with autism, safety kits that include door alarms, outlet covers and table corner cushions, and gluten-free menus at all of their food and beverage outlets. Some conference attendees say they plan to make this an annual family vacation enjoying the spacious rooms with refrigerators and microwave ovens. Childcare, which must be arranged in advance, is available for conference attendees bringing their children with autism.

Still other attendees come sans children and view this as a combination conference and retreat. For some, NAC has become an annual reunion of sorts. For long-time attendees, one of the highlights of the event is the presentation of NAA’s BELIEVE Award, now named in memory of NAA co-founder Jo Pike. Jo was a tireless advocate, mom and friend to the autism community who succumbed to cancer in 2010, but whose gentle and loving spirit lives on.

“No matter where you go on the property, you will find someone from the conference and they make you feel like family,” says Catherine Masha of Katy, Texas. “The conference provides free breakfast and lunch items, and free beverages throughout the day, which helps make the weekend that much more affordable. There’s also plenty of time to visit with exhibitors.”

The more leisurely pace of the conference is also conducive to rejuvenation. Sessions begin later in the morning and evening activities encourage networking in a fun, relaxed atmosphere. The highlight of the conference is the Saturday night “Life’s a Beach” dinner and dance, held under the stars on the resort’s beautiful beachfront property. It’s a chance for guests to let loose, relax and dance with their toes in the sand.

Keeping Connected

Kim Mack Rosenberg, President of the NAA New York Metro Chapter, also views it as a time to renew relationships with people she’s connected with online and to strengthen the national commitment to NAA’s goals.

“As an NAA Chapter President, I look forward to the conference as a chance to connect with the national leadership and fellow chapter leaders to share ideas and brainstorm about ways to make our great organization even better. I often come with friends from the New York Metro area,” says Rosenberg. “It is a chance for us to relax, hang out and catch up – all while learning cutting-edge information. It’s also a chance for me to see friends from all over the U.S. and the world.” Rosenberg adds the conference is often the only time she can catch up with those friends she connects with all year via Facebook and email. “But there’s nothing like being together and this conference is a great opportunity to see old friends and make new connections!”

2012 Keynote Speaker

Eustacia Cutler, mother of Temple Grandin, widely regarded as one of the most influential and successful adults with autism, will talk about the challenges of raising her daughter in the 1950s. Temple’s story is an inspiration to all as, together with the help of her family, she navigated a difficult and sometimes hostile world to overcome many challenges. Dr. Grandin eventually earned her doctoral degree in animal science and she has authored books on living with autism as well as books on how animals think, act and feel. This journey, told from her mother’s perspective, is an inspiring story of unconditional love and perseverance.

Cutler earned a B.A. from Harvard, was a band singer at the Pierre Hotel in New York City, performed and composed for an NYC cabaret, and wrote school lessons for major TV networks. Her research on autism and retardation created the script for two WGBH television documentaries: The Disquieted and The Innocents, a prize winning first. Her 2006 book, A Thorn in My Pocket, describes raising Temple in the Leave-it-to-Beaver world of the 1950s when children with autism were routinely diagnosed as infant schizophrenics and banished to institutions.

“I’ll tell you a bit about raising Temple in the fifties, how she conquered the hurdles of childhood and has gone on to surprise us all,” says Cutler. “I’ll describe some of my own life experiences including the complicated family battle that the diagnosis of infant schizophrenia stirred up. I’ll go into the neurological stumbling blocks of autism, why they take a toll on both child and family, and I’ll cover how current bio-neurological research is pointing us toward insightful possibilities of change.”

Cutting-Edge Presentations

All NAC speakers are vetted to provide attendees with the latest advances in all relevant areas, according to Fournier. In addition to a full-day event on special education law (an optional pre-conference workshop), a full range of topics including the latest biomedical treatments, the current state of research, cutting-edge therapies and practical tips for families will be covered. David Berger, MD, FAAP, will also talk about Preconception and Prenatal Strategies for a Healthy Baby with critical information that could help prevent autism.

“There are plenty of educational opportunities without being overwhelming,” says Masha, who says she returns from every conference with new ideas to help her own children and the families she consults with in her supplement business. “You learn things at a conference you can’t really learn in a book, because you listen to many speakers on related topics and begin to put the pieces of the puzzle together for your child based on what is relevant to your situation.”

Understanding of autism, its causes and what confers vulnerability, as well as effective treatment strategies, is still in the “steep part of the learning curve” which makes it all the more important to keep up with the latest research and speak firsthand to scientists, doctors and researchers on the front lines of the epidemic. The relaxed pace, intimate venue and smaller crowds make it easy to connect with parents and presenters alike.

“Viewing the sunset, piña colada in hand, with a group of dedicated autism warrior parents and the specialists who believe in them is a rare, inspirational experience,” says Masha. “I wouldn’t miss it.”


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The Sound of Silence

Many children lose the language they have gained as autism takes hold—but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to communicate.

During my son’s toddler and preschool years I read everything I could get my hands on—but it wasn’t bestselling novels or fashion magazines that caught my eye. My afternoons were spent taking notes and making copies of pages to reference later. I squeezed in as much reading as I could while my children napped, spending my nights looking up terms and studies in the medical books I borrowed from the college library down the street. I wasn’t a student registered in any university courses—I was a parent of a child who had started to regress.

Having a typical child turn into a special needs child wasn’t something I’d prepared for or could have predicted. I had a good bit of knowledge about typical childhood development because of my career for nearly a decade as an educator. I knew when my son Ronan started to regress, something was different from what I’d seen in my own classroom although I couldn’t pinpoint exactly what. Sadly, neither could the professionals we were beginning to visit.

Searching For Answers

Thinking I might be able to use some of my old college textbooks wasn’t proving useful. I ended up scanning the bookshelves at a nearby college in my quest for answers, checking out everything from nursing care to psychological phenomena, but nothing fit my son’s issues. Having exhausted the local libraries, I turned to the internet. Soon I was settled at my desk in my own home, searching for answers one webpage at a time.

I continued a general search of childhood diseases, hoping something would pop out at me. I searched rare disorders, medical miracles and more, and became curious about speech and language development. It interested me because Ronan had gained some typical toddler vocabulary but had recently started to lose that speech. He was vocal and excited to say his words—but over time, I was crushed to hear garbled utterances. Ronan eventually fell silent. My quest for answers hastened.

Losing Speech

One thing that left me puzzled as Ronan was losing his skills was that through the silence he ached to communicate. The articles I read on severe expressive speech delays scared me. How could children be able to be a part of the world if they couldn’t talk? I’d never heard of children losing their speech in the way Ronan and other children I was reading about were.

The numbers of children being silenced by their regressions gave me new determination to find out more, and quickly. I knew that traumatic brain injury could cause speech issues, but that didn’t apply to my son. Previously typical children were being coupled with intense and disabling issues. Ronan struggled to produce words he’d clearly gained already. It didn’t make sense that he’d lost what I thought was such a simple skill. One of my internet searches brought me to a diagnosis known as apraxia of speech which I researched further. What I discovered was intriguing because I felt that Ronan displayed several of the traits of an apraxic child.

Ronan had just been enrolled in the early intervention program to address some of his delays with bare minimum allotted therapy time. Despite many attempts to increase instruction time, more speech was never granted. I knew that early identification and intense speech therapy with a highly trained speech and language pathologist (SLP) was proving successful for some children. They were able to gain skills allowing them to communicate through speech again. I wanted that for my son, too.

Wasted Time

Knowing Ronan would greatly benefit from the intense therapy suggested for apraxic children, I continued to request more school-based speech therapy. We didn’t have the means to go to a therapist privately and I foolishly thought the school system would provide the therapy he needed. I remember bringing up apraxia at Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meetings, requesting that Ronan be screened. The final response after all my attempts was, “When Ronan is six, maybe he’ll have enough speech skill to be properly evaluated, so let’s just wait until then.” Being the new special needs mom that I was, I recorded that information in my IEP binder and made a mental note to ask again for this testing when Ronan turned six.

So much time was wasted waiting for Ronan to “catch up” and for providers to clue in. During those next three years, Ronan received the cookie-cutter speech therapy typical in our area: 30 minutes twice a week with someone not experienced with apraxia. During this time, I discovered that while in kindergarten, not only was his school therapy grossly inadequate, but his entire schooling experience was causing regression and anxiety. With careful consideration, to secure his safety and preserve what little educational base he had, we transferred Ronan to private speech therapy and a private school. Once settled into his new routine and placements, he finally began to make steady progress. The decision to go private with better trained professionals proved positive.

Hopeful Signs

Our private SLP had been working for five years in the speech therapy field when she met Ronan. Erin Maher, who had completed her clinical work in a hospital rehabilitation setting for adults, realized the hospital was not for her. She wanted more than ever to work with children in a private setting. Settling down in the Raleigh area after graduation, Erin’s dream came true. She took a CFY-SLP position at Let’s Talk and has been there ever since.

Erin worked directly under the clinic’s “autism guru” while also gaining knowledge and skills working with the practice’s autism population. Her Clinical Fellowship—although very intense—would prove to be rewarding. Erin got to learn from the best and was immersed further into speech and language development, and how it related to those on the autism spectrum.

After meeting her a few times, I knew Erin was going to be the perfect fit for Ronan. The day we switched over to her services, Erin and our former SLP, and Ronan and I were sitting in the therapy room. Ronan had just started to make gains with some difficult motor planning exercises usually hampered by his low tone. He knew many words and occasionally one would tumble out. But, expressive output continued to be very rare.

On this partciular morning, Ronan had just finished some lip exercises with a lollipop. He was normally very distracted which, in this moment, helped us have a conversation without interruptions, but Ronan had something to say. He leaned forward into our circle and said, “Yum.” It was a deliberate, satisfied response to a tasty treat. Ronan said “Yum” twice more and had us sitting there in awe—and also filled with hope.

Time And Effort

Erin knew she had years of speech therapy ahead to give Ronan a chance to communicate better. Ronan of course had the most work to do. He had to learn how to shape his lips, have enough energy and memory to remember how to make sounds, and then put everything together to produce those sounds and be understood by others.

Ronan worked hard while Erin stayed as determined as ever. What proved to be the biggest component of Ronan’s journey was his sheer determination coupled with Erin’s dedication. After completing a series of exercises, sometimes Ronan would put his head down to rest. The second the next activity was laid out, he would pick his head up, scoot his little body up to the table, and try his hardest. Erin tapped into Ronan’s initiative and got right to work.

Tactile Therapy

Because of the thorough Let’s Talk evaluation, Ronan was granted the highest level of therapy time possible. Erin began to use a speech-language treatment technique called PROMPT (Prompts for Restructuring Oral Muscular Phonetic Targets). PROMPT involves the physical manipulation of a child’s jaw, face and mouth during communicative exchanges to show patients how speech sounds are produced. 
Ronan had consistently struggled with oral motor skills. He was able to imitate minimal oral motor movements but was not able to produce any sounds in imitation, so this became a focus of his therapy. Initially, Ronan’s attempts to imitate oral motor movement were done using a lollipop in front of a mirror so he could see himself. He was later able to transfer the movements he learned to pure imitation. Eventually the prompting techniques Erin used with these exercises were decreased as Ronan gained sounds.

Ronan was able to imitate more sounds than with other programs while using this tactile cueing system. Erin not only provided intense therapy and genuine care for Ronan, but also taught his school instructors and me. She guided us in providing tactile input for current targeted sounds Ronan was working on in order to draw out his speech gains and skills to other natural settings.

Speech Tools Crucial

Erin’s arsenal of speech tools included straws and bubbles to practice breath output and strengthen Ronan’s ability to control how sound was made. Ronan’s sessions were chock-a-block full, and he thrived thoroughly from it.

He learned how to blow bubbles, blow up a balloon, toot a horn to produce sound, and how to make specific sounds. Word approximations were confirmed by Ronan himself as he used his sign language simultaneously to express a thought. Erin pushed Ronan to the next level, using her technical knowledge and genuine desire to help children succeed.

Ronan trusted Erin and followed through with her demands. He also built confidence in his attempts to always try, try again. I appreciated every bit of encouragement Ronan got and the cheering Erin sent my way, too. Our whole family got involved with Ronan’s therapy: we were constantly amazed at his progress.

Tell-All Child…

Aiding Ronan with his communication has been a big task and has taken years to perfect. It’s something I never imagined having to do.

Thankfully I didn’t give up on searching for answers, and to this day Ronan has a great desire to tell us what he wants or needs. He can now call out to his Daddy with the sweetest sounding “Da da.” Ronan is silent no more! He has yet to regain all of the words he lost and still relies heavily on sign language, but his desire to speak remains very strong. Finding the right people with the right tools for such a monumental task is paying off, one sound and one word at a time.

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