This is Little Canaries, a centralized web presence I created in response to the growing concern and curiosity about my son and his social, emotional and physical well-being. Two years ago, I designed this website to help answer questions from my friends and family about his wide array of treatments and interventions. Today, I am hoping that the site will become a resource for confused and overwhelmed parents everywhere who desperately need someone (particularly a fellow parent) to organize all of this information in an approachable, empirical and manageable way. With any luck, and a little help from my friends, this site will accomplish just that.
Why “Little Canaries”…
Before new technological innovations facilitated the detection of lethal amounts of ambient methane gas, underground miners toted caged canaries down into the mines with them for every shift they worked. Anyone who has ever owned a pet canary knows that a this little bird is much more sensitive than your average bird, and shows his owner that environmental conditions are too tough for him to survive by, well…dying.
As you can surmise, these little canaries perform a very important job. They let us know that something is wrong with the environment in which we are living; they tell us when it’s not safe to breathe the air, drink the water, or eat the food.
The premise of this website is that, metaphorically speaking, most children today are like your average bird. They are fun, energetic, and well-adjusted to the hodgepodge of chemical insults present in their environment. Within this population, some children will be completely oblivious to environmental allergens, while others will sneeze and have watery eyes when the flowers and trees bloom, or when we add yet another pet to our menagerie. But on the whole, kids tend to be pretty average birds. And then there are the canaries.
Canaries respond in very different ways to the same environmental insults that have no effect on the average birds. Our little canaries get sick. Very sick. When faced with an immune-provoking toxin, some children will reflux or vomit uncontrollably. Others will begin to bleed from the inflammation in their intestines and refuse to eat any food at all. Some will sneeze 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Some will develop painful, oozing skin rashes that cover their entire body. Still others will have high fevers, convulsions, night awakenings, and begin to engage in what appear to be bizarre, repetitive rituals. Some will stop talking, withdraw into their own world and give up. Others will scream, screech or wail, day in and day out. Up until about ten years ago, these relatively rare (5 children out of 10,000) “afflicted” children were sent to live out their lives confined within the walls of an institution. Today, one child out of every 150 children is “autistic,” and most are treated with behavioral interventions to stem the troublesome screaming and self-mutilation.
I submit, as do many others who have experienced the onset of autism firsthand, that the panoply of behaviors called “autism” is not an independent syndrome or disorder at all. Rather, the manifestation of autism (or “autistic-like” behaviors) is the end point of a long road of suffering; it’s the last thing our little canaries can do to tell us that something terrible has happened to them and their immune systems are systematically going haywire. Before they shut the world out to deal with the agony, our children are sending us a vivid warning about the myriad of biological, chemical, and environmental hazards to which they were exposed in infancy.
About this site…
The notion of environmental insults leading to autism is not my own hypothesis, pipe dream, or wishful thinking on behalf of an exhausted parent of a special needs child. I am, first and foremost, a scientist. I have lived my entire life with logic as my map and intuition as my navigator. I don’t believe in false hope, hippy-dippy nature store remedies, miracle cures, or snake oil treatments from online vendors. I strongly resent the suggestion from well-meaning people to implement treatments for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) that have not been empirically tested and proven effective by carefully monitored trials. These suggestions, while usually well-meaning, carry the hazard of sending me on the proverbial wild goose chase, to the detriment of my son’s health. My child is nobody’s lab rat, so nothing that you find on this site will imply a “suggestion” or “so-and-so said that this worked…” Rather, this site is for people like me, those parents who demand a logical and empirical explanation for what might have caused these problems and why a particular treatment or intervention might (or might not) work for their child. It’s great if an intervention worked for Sally down the street, but I have a strong compulsion to know why that worked. In other words, I think parents of ASD kids should be asking questions like these:
Each article and/or discussion on the site is credited to the researcher who wrote it; in some cases, I bulked up the bibliography so that you will have more options for research. As an educator, I carry around a lot of hatred toward plagiarism, so you’ll find none of that here. If you see any discrepancies, or a research idea or model that is not properly cited or credited on any of the pages, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will remedy the problem immediately.
The origins of these traits associated with what we call “autism” are multiple and controversial, but the information on this site is designed to help you as a parent to decipher which route to autism your little canary might have taken, and how to get him/her “out of the cage” and back onto the right road.
BIG DISCLAIMER: I’m not a doctor (at least not an M.D.), so by all means, be a responsible parent and DON’T take my word for it. These pages are NOT here to tell you what to do; they are here to help you sort out what’s currently swirling around in terms of research and treatments.
Educate your pediatrician or family doctor, tell them about the latest research and talk to them about these findings concerning the origins of autism. Everything I’m presenting on these pages is for your knowledge, so that you have a place to start. I didn’t have any idea what the latest treatments were when my son was going through this ordeal, so I saw a real need to make this a reality for other parents just starting on this difficult journey.
I’ve compiled several pages pertaining to the issues that I consider primary, with evidence from empirical studies to back up the information. I’m not getting any money from anybody for this, so don’t worry about endorsements, etc. If you want to know what supplement Sally down the street is taking, walk over there and ask her. If you want to know the reason Sally takes a supplement, walk down to the library and read the research journal articles I’ve cited here. The most important thing is to talk to your doctor before beginning any course of treatment, and if your doctor doesn’t want to at least hear you out, then maybe it’s time to reevaluate your practitioner. If your doctor dismisses your ideas outright, ask him/her to back up these assertions with research articles and/or experiences with similar cases. Closed minds, either on behalf of the doctors OR the parents, are certainly not going to make treating a sick child any easier.
I am both Professor and Mommy, and as a working single-parent, I spend most of my time trying to find some sort of balance among these different aspects of my life. With a five-year old, generally I spend my days going from one activity to another; sometimes our days are fun, sometimes we have days that are not so fun, but I’m always guided by the central goal of keeping my little one well and happy.
For questions, comments or suggestions, please feel free to send an email to email@example.com, or send me an IM at AOL screen name LittleCanaries.