In honor of Autism Awareness Month (1), I would like to share a very personal story and series of lessons I have learned over the 30 years that I have been a perinatal health specialist. My professional focus is on how to prevent suffering in future generations and how to conceive, birth, and raise extraordinary children. Imagine my shock when some 20 years ago, my son was born and then diagnosed along the autism spectrum (ASD).
At that time, tests were just being developed for toxins like heavy metals. When we tested our son, it turned out he had a lot of metals -- aluminum, cadmium, lead, and mercury. Of course, immediately I had regrets. What could I have done differently? Could I have prevented my son's suffering, his memory loss, his "hot stomach," and his chronic sinus congestion? Why did this happen to our son? We had been doing everything right, or so we thought. I have spent most of my time since that moment helping my son get better and learning how to help others prevent the same thing from happening to them.
Parents grow the most when they are confronted with a child in need. We ask questions, we research, we talk with other parents, and we make sacrifices. So, I was curious what regrets other parents of autistic children might have. Were they the same as mine? Over the years, I questioned dozens of parents of children living with ASD. Here are their top regrets -- the things that they would do differently if they could turn back time.
1. I wish I had worked with a doctor trained in how to prevent autism.
Nearly all parents say they regret not being warned about the risk of autism by their doctor. Angry, they say that doctors are supposed to protect us. They feel betrayed by their doctor, even tricked into a false sense of security -- that getting pregnant today is the same as it was decades ago.
When parents search on the Internet, they find hundreds of studies linking toxins, heavy metals, low folic acid, B12, and glutathione levels, unhealthy sperm and maternal infection to autism (2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7). Mainstream doctors just are not being trained to know the risk factors before conception.
2. I wish I had understood the importance of eliminating heavy metals and toxins before we conceived.
Often, parents did not realize the impact heavy metals and toxins could have on their baby. Perplexed, they assumed that because they ate a relatively healthy diet and were disease-free, that their baby would turn out okay. They had no idea that heavy metals and toxins could be stored in their tissues and bones and then released into their baby through conception, pregnancy, and breastfeeding.
We inherit some of our toxins from our parents and grandparents (8). And after four generations, our toxic burden is catching up with us. The truth is, no matter how healthy our diet is or how much exercise we get, without special techniques and protocols, some toxins get trapped in our fatty tissues and bones and can pose a risk for our future baby (9).
3. I wish I asked more questions in restaurants and had read more food labels.
Parents regret that they were not more vigilant when dining out, that they were casual with their diet and their future child's health. From MSG and aspartame to wheat that has 10 times more gluten than it used to, to non-organic foods bathed in pesticides, to fried foods and hydrogenated fats, grocery shopping and dining out is a health hazard these days (10). These foods can trigger chronic inflammation that can contribute to autism (11).
Most restaurant chains, fast food restaurants, and packaged food companies have quietly swapped salt with MSG for two good reasons: It makes unsavory foods taste better, and its addictive quality brings in "repeat customers" (12). And diet soda companies and "sugar-free" food companies have transitioned almost exclusively to aspartame (13). Both MSG and aspartame are now known to be "excitotoxins," chemicals that damage nerve cells.
4. I wish I understood that autism could happen to anyone.
Parents consistently felt like they were blindsided when their child developed autism. They say that they regret having miscalculated the risks in today's world. Since autism affected 1 in 20,000 a few decades ago, the current epidemic has creeped up on most parents. Today, on average, 1 in 50 are being diagnosed along the autism spectrum (ASD), and some estimates suggest that it may be as high as 1 in 38 (14).
We don't understand the autism risks, so we don't take precautions. The crazy thing is, I have been working with parents of autistic children for decades now. There is no consistent pattern of neglect, of "reckless food eating" that connect parents of autistic children. In fact, I have found that parents of autistic children are often the parents that seemed to do everything "right."
For each of us, being touched by autism in our own family may be just around the corner. And it is hard to see around corners. In today's toxic world, we all need to learn to navigate our way through. For the sake of our unborn, we have a lot to learn from parents of autistic children. Like them, we too must begin asking more questions, thinking for ourselves, and taking responsibility for our future children and grandchildren, even before conception. As my teacher once said, we can either learn through suffering or through wisdom and knowledge.
Parents spent most of the 20th century furiously trying to adapt to unprecedented changes in every area of their lives. In the 21st, many parents are slowing down, questioning what they've been told, and discovering that preparing themselves for having a baby can save them from a lifetime of regrets.
For more on autism, click here.
To purchase Roy Dittmann's book, Brighton Baby: A Revolutionary Organic Approach to Having an Extraordinary Child, click here.
1. World Autism Awareness Day. AutismSpeaks.org. Available online at http://www.autismspeaks.org/what-autism/world-autism-awareness-day
2. James JS, Cutler P, et al. Metabolic biomarkers of increased oxidative stress and impaired methylation capacity in children with autism. Am J Clin Nutr December 2004; Vol. 80, No. 6, 1611-1617.
3. Bertoglio K, James JS, et al. Pilot study of the effect of methyl B12 treatment on behavioral and biomarker measures in children with autism. J Alternative Complementary Medicine May 2010; Vol. 16, Issue 5. Available online at http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/acm.2009.0177
4. Austin, David. An epidemiological analysis of the 'autism as mercury poisoning' hypothesis. The International Journal of Risk and Safety in Medicine, 2008; Vol. 20, No. 3, pp. 135-142. Available online at http://iospress.metapress.com/content/133622276585h1t0/
5. Tomljenovic, Lucija. Do aluminum vaccine adjuvants contribute to the rising prevelance of autism? J Inorganic Biochemistry November 2011; Vol. 105, Issue 11, pp. 1489-1499. Available online at http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0162013411002212
6. Atladottir HO, Thorsen P, et al. Maternal infection requiring hospitalization during pregnancy and autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders December 2010; Vol. 40, Issue 12, pp. 1423-1430.
7. Reichenberg A, Gross R, et al. Advancing paternal age and autism. JAMA Psychiatry, September 2006; Vol. 63, No. 9, pp. 1026-1032. Available online at http://archpsyc.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=668208
8. I Baranowska. Lead and cadmium in human placentas and maternal and neonatal blood (in a heavily polluted area) measured by graphic furnace atomic absorption spectrometry. Occup Environ Med 1995; Vol. 52, pp. 229-232. Abstract available online at http://oem.bmj.com/content/52/4/229.shortJenny
9. Arrebola JP, Fernandez MF, et al. Predictors of the total effective xenoestrogen burder (TEXB) in human adipose tissue. A pilot study. Reprod Toxicol January 2012; Vol. 33, Number 1, pp. 45-52. Abstract available at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22107726
10. Jeffrey Dach. Dangers at the Grocery Store. OpEdNews.com, July 15, 2009. Available online at http://www.opednews.com/articles/Dangers-at-the-Grocery-Sto-by-Jeffrey-Dach-090714-853.html
11. Blaylock R. Available online at http://europepmc.org/abstract/MED/19284184
12. Barbara L. Minton. The Dangers of MSG. Food Matters.tv January 19, 2009. Originally published on NaturalNews.com. Available online at http://foodmatters.tv/articles-1/the-dangers-of-msg
13. "Aspartame Dangers." Livestrong.com. Available online at http://www.livestrong.com/aspartame-dangers/
14. Karen Weintraub. Autism numbers rise in latest count. USA Today March 20, 2013. Available online at http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/03/20/children-autism-frequency/2000131/