The History of Total Load

The History of Total Load

The American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM), founded in 1965, is recognized as the first to acknowledge the total load phenomenon as it relates to the root causes of chronic health conditions. According to AAEM,

“The “total load” concept postulates that multiple and chronic environmental exposures in a susceptible individual contribute to a breakdown of that person’s homeostatic mechanisms. Rarely is there only one offending agent responsible for causing a diseased condition. Multiple factors co-exist, usually over a prolonged period of time in bringing about the disease process.”

What Is Total Load Theory?

Total load is one of the basic theories used in environmental medicine and environmental and systems-oriented health disciplines to explain why people get sick in the modern world. It is a well-known engineering term that for decades has been applied to explain why a bridge might collapse. Who or what is to blame? The truck driver? The trucking company? The engineer who designed the bridge? The weather? The ship captain whose tanker bumped into the moorings endless times? Obviously not any of them is a single cause, even though each stressor contributed to the outcome. An accumulation of dozens of stressors caused the bridge to collapse.

Child development specialist, autism expert, and licensed professional counselor (LPC), Patricia S. Lemer, was the first to use this term in the early 1990s in regard to autism and other developmental delays when she and three colleagues founded the non-profit Developmental Delay Resources (DDR). Lemer recognized that stressors such as developmentally inappropriate curricula – that teach reading in kindergarten and require kids to “sit still and pay attention” – as well as unintegrated reflexes, sensory processing difficulties, traumatic birth injuries, and other factors were additional stressors that are unique to children’s development that were not accounted for in the AAEM’s definition of “environment.”

In her 2019 book, Outsmarting Autism, Build Healthy Foundations for Communication, Socialization, and Behavior, at All Ages, Lemer stated that,

“Total Load Theory brings together many possible etymologies for developmental delays: biological, environmental, immunological, neurological, psychological, and toxicological. As stressors mount, they cause sensory, motor, language, social emotional, and other systems to collapse.”

When Epidemic Answers merged with DDR in 2013, the two organizations, now one, continued to apply total load to a burgeoning number of chronic childhood health and developmental conditions. The focus was not only on the load factors (or stressors) making our kids sick in these childhood epidemics, but also on the support factors that could make our kids more resilient. A perfect storm of load factors plus a lack of support factors, such as nutritious food, sufficient sleep, and daily movement created a perfect storm that prohibited them from being able to thrive at their true potential.

About Beth Lambert

Beth Lambert is a former healthcare consultant and teacher. As a consultant, she worked with pharmaceutical, medical device, diagnostic and other health care companies to evaluate industry trends.

She is the author of A Compromised Generation: The Epidemic of Chronic Illness in America’s Children (Sentient Publications, 2010). She is also a co-author of Epidemic Answers’ Brain Under Attack: A Resource for Parents and Caregivers of Children with PANS, PANDAS, and Autoimmune Encephalitis.

In 2009, Beth founded Epidemic Answers and currently serves as Executive Director. Beth attended Oxford University and graduated from Williams College and holds a Masters Degree in American Studies from Fairfield University.

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