The Autism Revolution: Whole-Body Strategies for Making Life All It Can Be

By Martha Herbert PhD MD with Karen Weintraub
Martha Herbert PhD MD is a former assistant professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School and a pediatric neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital. With the publication of The Autism Revolution: Whole-Body Strategies for Making Life All It Can Be in 2012, she became known as the researcher and clinician who brought the idea of autism as a whole-body condition into public consciousness. This book describes how interventions such as making dietary changes, removing toxins and boosting the immune system can relieve bodily symptoms that can also have positive effects on the brain. By reducing the total load of stressors on the body, both the body and brain are able to heal.

Systems-Biology Perspective

For a child with autism, the total load of stressors on the body and brain often reaches a tipping point somewhere between the ages of 18 months and four years of age. However, there were often multiple red flags that were typically overlooked or dismissed before this time such as colic, allergies, eczema, chronic ear infections, developmental delays, seizures and chronic constipation or diarrhea. Seen individually, these symptoms appear to be typical childhood ailments. Seen from a whole-body approach, they tell a different story.

The Autism Revolution looks at autism from a systems-biology perspective, meaning that there is a web of influences on and within the body to produce a diagnosis of autism, which is typically never the same from person to person. When looked at this way, one may see that the “whole-body system (of a person with autism) may be be so overloaded that it has less bandwidth for handling” sensory stimulation, toxic exposures, immune exposures and other stressors.

In this book, Dr. Herbert discusses the following parts of the web that typically affect a child with autism:

  • Genes and environment
  • Cell problems
  • Body health problems
  • Brain health problems
  • Brain processing problems
  • Thinking, feeling and attending problems
  • Communicating and relating problems
  • Blockages to creativity and transcendance

By untangling these different threads of the web, obstacles to healing can be removed, allowing the body and brain to heal.

The Key to Healing

The key to overcoming many of the whole-body challenges of autism is to make the brain healthier by making the body healthier. Dr. Herbert believes that “small adjustments can sometimes trigger big changes” and that changing the diet is the best first step to take. Other than this first step, the book is not so much a step-by-step guide for improving your child’s health but rather a framework for assessing potential treatments and therapies that you can discuss with your child’s practitioner.

By removing these total-load stressors and adding in supports, symptoms of gastrointestinal, neurological, behavioral, immunological and other types of symptoms will often resolve, allowing these children to display their extraordinary gifts.

Conclusion

Although the book is packed with cutting-edge research and knowledge, Herbert and Weintraub do an excellent job of making the information and ideas accessible to both lay people and practitioners alike. The stories of the same few children are woven in and out of the narrative again and again to illustrate points as well as to personalize their stories and make them more relatable. Those who wish to understand the biomedical, whole-body approach to autism should read this essential book.

About Martha Herbert PhD MD

Martha Reed Herbert PhD MD is the Principal Investigator and Scientific Director of Epidemic Answers’ Documenting Hope Project.

She is a pediatric neurologist, neuroscientist, systems thinker and writer who trained in medicine at Columbia University, Pediatrics at Cornell-New York Hospital and Neurology at the Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School.

At Harvard, she founded the collaborative multidisciplinary TRANSCEND Research Program which takes a whole-body-brain approach to challenged brain development.

Prior to her medical training she received her PhD in the History of Consciousness at the University of California, Santa Cruz, writing her dissertation on the evolution and development of learning processes.

She founded the Higher Synthesis Foundation in Cambridge, Massachusetts, whose mission is to study and inspire successful regenerative approaches to complex health and environmental problems, particularly those that fall under the umbrella of its “Gifted Clinicians, Transformative Treatments, Sensitive Measures” Project and her Body-Brain-World thematic.

She is the author of the book The Autism Revolution: Whole Body Strategies for Making Life All It Can Be as well as many scientific papers. Her websites are: drmarthaherbert.com and highersynthesisfoundation.org

About Karen Weintraub

Karen Weintraub

A longtime newspaper journalist, Karen Weintraub is now a freelance writer, journalism professor and book author. Her first book, The Autism Revolution, with Harvard autism expert Dr. Martha Herbert, was published in April 2012, by Random House.

Her second, Fast Minds: How to Thrive If You Have ADHD (Or Think You Might), with Drs. Craig Surman and Tim Bilkey, was published in February 2013.

Her journalism has appeared in a range of publications and websites, including The Boston Globe, USA Today, the BBC online and Nature. She teaches at the Harvard Extension School and Boston University’s Graduate Program in Science Journalism. You can find out more about her at her website KarenWeintraub.com

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