Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Book Review (#13 of 2013) The Autism Revolution by Martha Herbert, M.D, PhD

I think it's inappropriate to use "revolution" or "miracle" in a book title unless one is writing about historical and supernatural events. This title wasn't even the publisher's choice, it was the author's-- she repeats the word often. I am disappointed to see how highly this book is rated on Amazon.

This book's main idea in one paragraph:
Whatever problem your child has, try changing his or her diet in small ways and see what happens. Keep a log of the changes and try to do it systematically-- try to control for other factors. Good things might happen (and they might not).

Dr. Herbert never defines what "autism" is. There is mention of a spectrum but she never explains that--she never says "Asperger's" or tells the history of autism and how it is diagnosed. That's a real weakness of the book.(I recommend this book as a starter instead.)

She is often quick to say "This particular method is unproven" or "there is thin evidence" or "this treatment may not have been the reason the child's autism improved..." but that doesn't stop her from going on for several pages about those treatments, even ones she doesn't recommend. She talks about the genetics, and unknown other variables that lead to autism and other developmental problems and readily admits that perhaps environmental choices may not prevent them, but then makes it sound as if you condemn your child by not making the right environmental choices.

I think this book is almost dangerous to give to a pregnant woman-- many of whom I know are already overly anxious about diet and toxins. If you avoid everything the author says to avoid (over multiple sections of the book), you must live in a bubble. Avoid the outdoors because you might be exposed to exhaust and pesticides; avoid non-organic foods; avoid cleaning your house because you'll stir up dust; avoid cats; take multivitamins but not too many and not the wrong ones; the list goes on.  You're left with the impression that even one exposure to a free radical may be the single thing that caused your body to create an autistic child, but then she throws in the caveat "maybe not. You may never know." You could eliminate much of the book with the repetition of the long lists with the "maybe not" caveats. Why waste ink worrying about so many little things?

The anecdotal stories in the book were interesting to me, particularly the autistic adults in the book who made life changes and saw results. I've no doubt that many parents felt outraged that doctors were ignoring their children's gastrointestinal symptoms. Some kids may indeed have been displaying autistic symptoms because their body was reacting to celiac disease. That wasn't the case in my son's autism, but I don't discount the power of various foods and chemicals on his behavior-- anyone who's ever been around any child knows that what the kid eats matters (sugar rush, anyone?). Every parent I know tries to give their children more nutrients and less garbage, even just for the sake of it.

Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is mentioned in the book as the only behavioral treatment with documented results.  I felt that it and others got short shrift in Dr. Herbert's "revolution" compared to the lengthy cartoonish illustrations of how the brain and immune system work and respond to bacteria and toxins. The detailed analysis of various chemical compounds was also a bit much. Let's focus on what the data say.

In all, I give this book 2 stars out of 5.

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