Recovery isn't a word you used to hear in connection with autism. But it's showing up more frequently in anecdotal accounts these days. One such account is writer Christina Adams's new book, "A Real Boy: A True Story of Autism, Early Intervention, and Recovery" (Penguin Books, $15).
Ask nearly any specialist what's the most important thing you can do for a child with autism, and they'll tell you it's early, intense intervention. The problem is that many don't agree on just what that intervention should be.
Adams pulled no punches when her son Jonah was diagnosed with autism two years and eight months after he was born. With the clock ticking (most effective interventions begin before age 3, she was told), Adams put her son on a gluten-free, casein-free diet (no dairy, no wheat, no processed meat and little sugar). She brought in therapists for 40 hours a week of applied behavioral analysis -- an intensive, one-on-one behavioral program -- plus speech therapy (and, with the help of a lawyer, got her local school system to pay for it). That was just the start. Over the next two years, Jonah also received antiviral drugs, antifungals, antidepressants, occupational therapy, auditory processing therapy and a psychoanalytic treatment known as the Cornerstone Method.
A lot to put a toddler through? Except, Adams says, Jonah got better. He showed radical improvement in just a few months, and by age 5 no longer was diagnosed with autism. A child who used to regularly bite others and bang his head on the wall, who couldn't point or use the pronoun "I," became one who could make friends and carry on meaningful conversations. He was welcomed back into the preschool that had expelled him.
Readers need to understand that some of the information Adams presents as factual is really quite controversial, particularly the contention that autism is often caused by a malfunctioning immune system.
Still, even if "A Real Boy" doesn't have as many answers about autism treatment as we'd like, it at least raises some intriguing questions.
-- Lisa Barrett Mann