Thursday, 25 April 2019

Autism & Faecal Implants

There's a lot to like about getting older.
Despite having to run the gauntlet of anti-aging, anti-wrinkle, anti- 'No One Loves You Cos You're An Ancient Hag' lotions in Boots when I want to buy some paracetamol, the positives of aging far outweigh the negatives.

First of all, it's quite nice not being dead.
In the not-too-distant past, if men managed to side-step communicable diseases, occupational hazards like rolling around in asbestos, and malnutrition evoked disabilities, they got to enjoy fifty solid years of misery and squalor.  Meanwhile, if women were hardy enough to survive into adulthood, they lived til the ripe old age of childbirth. 
Fun times.
Vaccines, improved medical care, education and social care, while far from perfect, now enable most of us to live well into our eighties.
So even though it's in the economy's best interest to demonise aging as an (expensive) horror to battle against, the joke is on them.... because by the time we 'need' an anti-aging arsenal of AHAs, retinol and hyaluronic acid, most of us are wise enough to know that we don't actually need them.  A four quid jar of moisturiser from Aldi protects our skin as efficiently as an ungent costing the price of a house extension.... and you can use the money you've saved to rock some age-inappropriate clothes while flipping the bird to the anti-aging industry.
There is no magic ointment that will make me look like a sixteen year old again (by my calculations I now have three of those bitches screaming inside me), and if you believe that youth equals beauty equals lovability, you probably need to get out more and make new friends.

contains the active ingredients tears and self-loathing

Instead of being celebrated as a solid milestone, marketers have managed to convince us that aging is malevolent, unattractive and unlovable.  But, most of us aquire a little more wisdom, humility and patience with the advance of years, and paying for that with a few lines and grey hairs seems like a good deal to me.

(in the interest of public safety, please take note of an imminent awkward segue into a different subject using the most tenuous of links; please adjust your seating and make allowances for the fact that my autistic son has been riffing the same three lines from Postman Pat since 7am, and that I remain semi-coherent and vertical.  Go, me!)

So, there's a lot of shit written about getting older.
But that steaming pile of bum-waste pales in comparison to a truly out-there Autism 'therapy' I came across lately.

An article published by the Daily Mail (which is never racist, sexist or homophobic and prides itself on printing only accurate, non-sensational scientific research.... or is it the other way round?  I can never remember) relates that faecal implants "drastically" (quote) reduce Autistic symptoms.  They report that the number of kids classed as having severe Autism dropped from 83% to 17% by the end of the research, and suggest that the presence of abnormal gut flora can trigger Autism.
I must admit, I wasn't encouraged by the comments beneath the article stating that Andrew Wakefield needs an immediate, abject apology (and possibly a sainthood) and that protecting our kids with vaccines is the equivalent of injecting their eyeballs with uncut heroin (I may be paraphrasing)... but at the same time, it seemed like an area worth investigating.  So off I wandered into the websphere, brandishing a copy of the Daily Mail to protect me from science and reason.

Faecal transplants are used medically to treat complications of antibiotic therapy, where donor faeces, which has been screened for diseases, is introduced to the bowel during a colonoscopy (in layman's terms, someone else's crap is pumped up your poophole).  It sounds pretty distasteful, but it's an effective way of treating a debilitating side-effect.  But, I imagine because of the very tenuous gut-brain link that some people believe underlies Autism (there's no evidence whatsoever to support this belief), the procedure has been hijacked as a possible treatment for Autism.

In 2017, a very small clinical trial (with a sample group of 18 kids) was carried out to investigate if altering the gut microbiota affected gastrointestinal and autistic symptoms; the study demonstrated improvements, which persisted up to 8 weeks following treatment.  While this is something to sit up and pay attention to, another article points out that the sample group was too small (so the results can't be applied to the entire autistic population) and that data collection relied heavily on parental observation (which left it wide open to placebo effect, where unconsciously the parents may perceive behaviors that they wish to see, and not what they actually see).
As far as I can see, there was no control group, so the results had nothing to be compared against.... and it also meant that all parents of the participants knew that their child was receiving the active substance, which could skew their data collection towards false positives.
So, even though it was an interesting study, it's a good country mile shy of proving itself as a reliable treatment for Autism. 

As you might expect, there are no shortage of  online anecdotes crediting faecal implants with recovery from Autism, learning to levitate and speaking in tongues (although I may have been drunk reading these, I'm not sure).
It was a bit worrying to learn that online support groups have sprung up of parents advising each other on how to do a bit of DIY muck spreading of their own.  As well as making me a little nervous of eating food in those houses (blenders and cooking utensils feature heavily), homes can't screen for potential diseases or pathogens... and it seems inevitable that at some point a kid is going to suffer illness or bowel perforation at the hands of a crappy parent.
And, as ever, being distracted by an unproven 'therapy' means less time and energy is invested into treatments and education that actually work

So, the Daily Mail is a little premature in hailing faecal transplants as the new wunderkind of Autism therapies, but  they were never shy about printing shit so no surprises there.

Monday, 8 April 2019

Autism & Ayurveda

It's funny what we find funny.
A sense of humour helps us cope with our darkest moments, so we can whistle past the graveyard of traumas, grief and broken hearts.
When I was a nurse, rolling our eyes at death stopped us being crippled by loss and allowed us to continue functioning in our jobs.
As a wife, I learned that mocking my husband's farts, grunts and nail-biting is a more socially acceptable alternative to beating him over the head with a short plank.... anyway, I kinda love him, and I'm too pretty for jail, so I mercilessly torment him instead.  It's much more fun.
As a mother, I mastered the ancient art of maintaining a poker face in response to appalled kids shouting "I hate you!!!", "you're not the boss of me!!!" and "I didn't ask to be born!!!".  First prize for laughing on the inside definitely goes to me.

Autism fits comfortably into the list of strangely inappropriate things to laugh about.
We really shouldn't laugh about it, but some aspects of it shock humour out of the maddest situations.... and I would definitely prefer to laugh than to become a martyr to misery.

The other day, a friend and I were chatting about the whole 'is your child autistic?' or 'does he have autism?' debate; we agreed that when your child is smearing shit on the walls it doesn't matter if you say "has autism", "is autistic" or "will happily lick magic markers til he vomits"....... it amounts to the same thing.  Getting cerebral about semantics won't stop you trying not to gag while you scrub the paintwork.
It's kinda funny that people will get indignant about wording; my son doesn't care, I don't care and the brown finger-painting on the wall definitely doesn't give a shit, so to speak.
A good rule of thumb is that laughter trumps vomit every time.

"mmmmm..... delicious"

Autism turns the whole illusion of living an orderly, steadily progressive life into groundbreaking comedy.  Your early career goals may have been incarcerated, eviscerated and incinerated... but maybe the chaos of Autism evoked an untapped talent you didn't know you had, or surprised you with a level of creativity that would have otherwise remained undiscovered?
It's quietly hilarious to think of the person I would now be if the hurricane of Autism hadn't made short work of all the pointless crap that preoccupied me; I would be more shallow, less compassionate and would live in a tidier world populated by normal, law-abiding moderates.
It's hard to think of anything more boring.
So I owe debt of thanks to Autism for making a mockery of the superficial, and filling my life with intriguing, badly behaved friends.... and for awakening the courage in me to create and live by my own values.

Over the years, Autism has slapsticked me with enough material to mortally wound my ego, my grace and my dignity.  My son has been a flamboyant nude trampoliner, a vocal defender of his entitlement to shoplift with abandon, and an enthusiastic supporter of the right to express his emotions through the medium of drama (mostly by having massive meltdowns in shopping centres). Wrestling with a naked, bouncing boy, or sitting on the floor of Pennys while he attempts to shatter glass with his screams, are guaranteed to relieve you of any delusions you might harbour that you're a classy, competent adult.  Autism parents are a sweaty mess of neuroses (although, maybe that's just me), but there's something liberating about enjoying the madness that Autism brings with it... when you learn to let go of the self-consciousness, there's a lot of fun to be had.

But little in the Autistic universe has made me laugh more than the seemingly endless parade of cures, miracles and quackery.  Every so often, I think I'll eventually run out of therapies to write about, but it's the gift that keeps on giving.

Ayurveda came to my attention a few years ago as a benign, well-intentioned healing system which aims to maintain balance between the mind, body and spirit (in the belief that imbalance leads to illness).  It's an ancient Hindu discipline which views each person as composed of five essential elements (air, space, water, fire and earth), combined with one of three life forces or 'doshas' (Vata, Pitta or Kapha).  A practitioner assesses your physical and emotional condition, your dosha and the balance of all your elements.  To redress any imbalances, the client may be prescribed massage, 'blood purification', medical oils, herbs, laxatives and enemas.
At this point, the notion of being benign seems to be grabbing a passport, a toothbrush and a one-way ticket to LaLa Land.  The circus of blood 'purification' never seems to end well.... and Ayurveda also seems to be more than a little bowel obsessed; it's hard to see how having nice, shiny intestines will make your artritis better.
But any shred of credibility Ayurveda may have been clinging onto has been soundly peeled away by it's promise to cure Autism.  I hardly need to say that there IS no cure for Autism, and that any promise of it is misleading at best, and dangerous at worst. Obviously, there's no scientific evidence to support Ayurveda as a therapy, never mind a cure, for Autism, and the articles I've read are based on 'gut feelings' and traditions.

It won't come as a huge surprise to learn that the FDA does not approve of Ayurveda as a therapy, and has banned many of the products it espouses... not least because 1 in 5 of them contain toxic metals like lead, mercury and arsenic.
Ayurveda is a waste of time and money, and the likelihood is that you'll end up sicker by the time you finish your 'treatment'. So, don't even.

You could bang your head against the brick wall of quack therapies ... or you could laugh and walk away.
It's a no-brainer.