Upon meeting Leo for the first time, it is difficult to grasp that this friendly, bright-eyed 10½ year old boy once had autism. There is nothing about his demeanor, appearance, or behavior that would even suggest that he had any sort of impairment whatsoever. But he did. Leo was diagnosed with autism at two years old by the physicians and researchers at the Yale University Child Study Center. Although it took two years for Leo to get a formal diagnosis, his mother Ashley* knew very early on that something with her baby boy just wasn’t right. After a healthy and normal pregnancy, Ashley delivered Leo via c-section. Leo was healthy at birth, with normal APGAR scores and all the signs of being a thriving baby.
Something Was “Off”
Ashley began to notice the first signs of something being “off” with Leo around two months of age; Leo would tremor slightly after nursing. Ashley and her husband took Leo to see a neurologist at the prestigious Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City, where they were told that the tremors were probably nothing and not to be concerned. Around four months of age, Leo developed severe separation anxiety. ”My instinct told me that this was not normal,” Ashley recounts, ”it was so severe that it just seemed ‘off’ to me.” Despite these early signs, Leo met all of his major development milestones during his first year of life. He rolled over, sat up, crawled and walked ”all on time”, so Leo’s pediatrician did not seem to be concerned that Leo had little to no real verbalization, no babbling or other signs of pre-language. Ashley began to suspect that her son might have autism after he reached a plateau in development during his second year of life.
More Signs of Autism
Between his first and second year, Leo began to show more signs of autism. He began “stimming” on the wheels of vehicles (obsessively fixating on wheels), he was not developing any speech, and he seemed to be in a “fog” all the time. Ashley had him evaluated by the state early intervention program where he qualified for speech therapy. After much persistence, Ashley got Leo into the Yale’s Child Study Center so that he could be evaluated by top autism experts. At 24 months old, Yale confirmed that, indeed, Leo was autistic. He had many of the most common characteristics of autism: stimming behavior, social and communication impairments, sensory integration disorder, perseverance (obsessive behaviors), low frustration point, and he was physically unwell.
Speech After Starting the GF/CF Diet
With the new diagnosis in hand, Ashley followed the advice of other mothers of autistic children and began Leo on the gluten-free/casein free diet (GF/CF). After only one week with no dairy or wheat, Leo began to talk. He went from no words to many two-word sentences, and Ashley describes it as if a “fog lifted.” To be sure, there was much recovery work ahead, but the GF/CF diet gave Ashley the confidence that improvement was possible. After starting the GF/CF diet, Ashley took Leo to a Defeat Autism Now! doctor and a Defeat Autism Now! dietician who began to treat Leo’s biological problems one-by-one.
Biomedical Protocol “Turned the Lights on”
Leo had many food and environmental allergies, chronic diarrhea, and asthma. Under the advice of her Defeat Autism Now! practitioners, Ashley began to feed Leo a more healthful diet emphasizing organic whole foods and removing allergenic foods that caused inflammation in his body. Ashley felt that the Defeat Autism Now! protocol helped Leo to make incredible gains and that his physical well-being improved substantially. ”His eyes, his skin tone, his face looked great.” Only 6 months into the diet changes and biomedical protocol (Defeat Autism Now!), Leo tested age appropriate for speech. Progress was happening, but his recovery was not complete. Ashley is fond of saying that the biomedical treatment helped to “turn the lights on” in Leo, but it was focused behavioral therapy that corrected his social deficits.
Behavioral Therapy for Social Deficits
While Leo’s biomedical issues were being addressed by the Defeat Autism Now! protocol and diet and environment changes, Ashley began to work intensively on Leo’s behavioral training, using techniques that were similar to ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis). Leo continued to make steady gains from the behavioral therapy, so Ashley sought out highly skilled ABA practitioners to work with Leo. Ashley carefully studied these skilled practitioners as they worked with Leo, and she incorporated ABA into every aspect of their lives.
Homotoxicology and BioSET
In addition to biomedical and ABA, Leo also worked with a homotoxicologist to detoxify his body, and he saw a BioSET practitioner to address his food and environmental allergies. Ashley also learned homeopathy and used homeopathic remedies to help Leo heal. Ashley believes that biomedical interventions, homeopathy, and energy healing recovered Leo’s body so that he could effectively respond to ABA. ABA addressed his social deficits and helped to “rewire” his brain so that he was able to learn and internalize appropriate behaviors. While ABA and Leo’s biomedical treatments resulted in the most immediate and tangible gains, all of the therapies and lifestyle modifications likely played some role in Leo’s recovery. Between the ages of 2 ½ and 5 ½ Leo made slow but steady gains, such that he no longer qualified for any special education services.
Autism Recovery Before Kindergarten
Before Leo started kindergarten, he officially lost his autism diagnosis. He entered kindergarten without any services or support, and no one, not even his teachers, knew that he was once diagnosed with autism. Today, Leo is a completely “normal” and typical kid. He tests above-average on standardized testing and was re-evaluated by Yale researchers who determined that he no longer meets any of the diagnostic criteria for autism. He is very social, friendly, and outgoing. He plays baseball, is a good student, and is popular in school. Ashley knows that her healthy, thriving son would not be anywhere near where he is today had it not been for the many biomedical, healing, and behavioral interventions that he received over his first few years of life.
Second Son Showed Early Signs of Autism
In fact, Ashley got a second chance to test out these interventions with her second child, Sydney, born just two years after Leo. Like her older brother, Sydney began to show some early signs of autism, including social deficits, sensory integration disorder, food allergies, and other signs of immune dysregulation. A lot more knowledgeable because of her experiences with Leo, Ashley immediately began interventions with Sydney as soon as she saw the familiar signs. Sydney ate the same healthy, organic, whole foods diet as Leo, which included staying gluten-free and casein-free. Despite showing many early signs of autism, Sydney “turned a corner” toward the end of her first year, and never developed autism. Ashley feels that she saved Sydney from autism.
Autism Risk Factors
What caused Leo’s autism? Ashley has given this question much thought over the years. Upon reflection, Ashley recalls a number of factors that may have put her son at a high risk for developing autism. These factors include:
Maternal History of Chronic Infections
- Chronic Lyme: Ashley was diagnosed with chronic Lyme disease years after Leo recovered. Ashley often wonders if the chronic fatigue and chronic colds that she experienced throughout her young adult years might have actually been undiagnosed Lyme disease.It is now believed that Lyme and coinfectors can be transmitted across the placenta from mothers to their babies. Ashley believes that she may have transmitted the Lyme spirochete or Lyme coinfectors (such as babesia) onto her children.
- Ashley also carries HSV1, the virus responsible for cold sores. HSV1 and other herpes viruses have been found in autistic children in a state of chronic infection.
Ashley admits that her family’s diet, like that of most American families, was never very good before Leo was diagnosed with autism. As she recalls, “TV dinners and McDonalds were staples,” but she also grew up in coastal California, where seafood (high likelihood of contamination) was another staple.
Toxin and Pesticide Exposure
Ashley grew up in the San Joaquin Valley in California, an important agricultural region. She “routinely saw and smelled pesticide being sprayed” while growing up. She remembers that the tap water that she drank everyday growing up had little “flakes” in it, and that it was heavily chlorinated.
- Ashley was frequently put on antibiotics during her college years to address minor illnesses, like colds or seasonal allergies.
- Ashley, like many thousands of women who deliver babies each year, tested positive for group B strep prior to delivery. Ashley was put on oral antibiotics prior to delivery. The oral antibiotics may have affected her gut flora and predisposed baby Leo to gut dysbiosis and subsequent immune dysregulation.
- Ashley and her husband also believe that their urban lifestyle (with easy access to processed, unhealthy foods, and exposure to many pollutants) may have in someway added to Leo’s total toxic burden.
- Years of working in indoor corporate environments prior to Leo’s birth may have exposed Ashley and her husband to electromagnetic pollution and indoor air pollution; their careers also keep them cloistered indoors, inhibiting their ability to spend time outdoors in a natural environment.
- In Ashley and her husband’s family tree, you will find a history of allergies and asthma — all illnesses that may indicate some susceptibility to gut dysbiosis, immune dysregulation, or sensitivity to environmental factors.
All of these elements add up to a “perfect storm” of environmental and genetic factors that may have led to a diagnosis of autism for Leo. Ashley is one of the most dedicated mothers you could ever meet. It was her dedication and love that pulled her children out of the unforgiving grip of autism. Recovering a child from autism is not easy, but it can be done. Ashley can also attest to the fact that it is easier to prevent autism in a susceptible child (as with her daughter, Sydney) than it is to recover a child from autism. Ashley recorded her autism recovery journey in an online blog, www.hiddenrecovery.com, so that other parents could benefit from the education she received from her son and his diagnosis. Ashley wants parents to know that there is hope, recovery is possible, and anything can be achieved with love and determination.