Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Adult ADHD

Arrghhh . . . .  Anyone see Dr. Hallowell on Good Morning America today talking about Adult ADHD?  I’ve read his books, and I’ve found him to be one of the few medical practitioners in this field that seems open to treating the disorder without medications, including the very methods we use at Spark, but you wouldn’t know it from this interview.

He says that (i) ADHD is “genetically transmitted, there is no doubt about it,” “95%” of the time; (ii) it is extremely under diagnosed in adults; (iii) medications – taken properly – are “very safe” and can be taken “indefinitely” because “when used properly,” these meds have “no side-effects;” and (iv) if you learn to adjust your life-style and develop new habits, you can wean yourself off these meds.

Also, if you watch the interviews with two adults who were diagnosed with ADHD and began taking meds for it, you’re led to believe these meds will enable you to have a novel published and earn huge bonuses at work (hmmm, maybe I should start taking Ritalin . . .).

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again.  I’m all for people getting help with attention issues – they really do exist -- and I believe that meds have their place, but only as a last resort.

I mean, really, if ADHD is genetic (and on that note, what about the research linking the disorder to, among other things, pesticide exposure (http://sparkdevelopment.blogspot.com/2010/05/pesticides-and-adhd-whats-next.html), too much television (http://sparkdevelopment.blogspot.com/2009/01/dont-touch-that-dial-literally.html), and artificial food additives (see, e.g., The Oxford-Durham Study: A Randomized, Controlled Trial of Dietary Supplementation With Fatty Acids in Children With Developmental Coordination Disorder?), and you need meds to deal with it, how can a change in lifestyle and habits cure the disorder?
Maybe, I’m missing something, but meds, in theory, affect a theoretical imbalance of neurotransmitter transmission and uptake in the brain.  Also, in theory, these meds do their thing in your brain and then they’re out of there.  Thus, you have to take them pretty much every day (in some cases, more than once a day).  So, I don’t think anyone believes that these meds permanently repair the hypothetical imbalance in your brain.

If that’s the case, how can a lifestyle change get you off these meds successfully?

What is actually going on?  Read between the lines.  Dr. Hallowell states that lifestyle changes can work.  And we know, and the research backs us up on this, that dietary changes, exercise, and sensory programs can quiet the internal “noise,” decrease the intensity of (and sometimes even eliminate) the “distractions,” and increase focus and attention.

Would one argue that a change in lifestyle is merely a coping mechanism, and the ADHD still exists?  If that’s the case, then aren’t the meds merely coping mechanisms as well?  And, if the two serve basically the same purpose, i.e., coping with ADHD, wouldn’t you want to do the one that is safer, and probably ultimately more likely to present a more permanent solution? 

Granted, drugs are quicker, but if the meds are not changing the biology, are we merely promoting the idea of taking drugs to enhance performance (http://sparkdevelopment.blogspot.com/2009/02/drugs-for-everyone.html)?

No one really knows how these meds work, no one really knows about the long term effects of these meds (see, eg, http://sparkdevelopment.blogspot.com/2009/01/finnish-study-questions-long-term.html), and it is simply and utterly untrue that these meds have no side-effects.  Like all psychotropic medications, they do have side-effects, even when taken properly, and while it is rare, there is documented proof of some very bad things happening to some people who took these meds (http://sparkdevelopment.blogspot.com/2009/02/on-subject-of-medications.html and http://sparkdevelopment.blogspot.com/2009/06/unexplained-sudden-death-and-adhd-meds.html).

Hey ABC, how about a story about people who cured themselves without meds?

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Spark Development Centers Testimonials

We are deeply touched by the kind words of these parents.  While we realize that every child is different and that results will vary, we greatly appreciate our parents' eagerness to share success stories like these.  Most of all, we thank our parents for their continued support and for the opportunity to serve their families.

To view complete video testimonials, Click Here.

To read parent testimonials, Click Here.

We thank Joseph Eckardt for capturing these very special moments for us.

Video Editor:  Stephanie Lombardo

Production Coordinator:  Gordon Edward

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Autism and Genetics

Did you see the article by Delthia Ricks, entitled “Scientists finding genes related to autism,” Newsday (12/5/10)?  It states that as a result of “combing the human genome,” “new gene discoveries . . . are helping to shape a narrative that autism spectrum disorders are largely genetic conditions.”  In fact, Dr. Eli Hatchwell, a geneticist and founder of a biotechnology firm claims that, "There may be a small number of individuals who are reacting badly to something in the environment, but I don't believe that to be the case for everyone. . .  Autism is 90 percent genetic in my opinion."  It should be noted that Hatchwell and his team are working on gene-based diagnostics for autism.

Sadly, I’m reminded of the old joke where a guy is intently scouring the ground under a street lamp one night.  Another guy sees him and asks, “What are you doing?”  The searcher replies, “Looking for my car keys.”  “Where exactly did you lose them?” inquires the second guy, to which the first points off into the dark distance, and says, “over there by my car.”  Incredulous, the second guy asks “Why on earth are you looking over here then?” “Because the light’s better,” says the first.

Millions and millions of dollars and research are being thrown at finding the “genetic” basis of autism, but really, are we looking in the right place?

Yes, the “light’s better” – if autism is truly an inherited, genetic condition, then autism is no one’s fault.  There is no one to blame; it’s just an unfortunate accident.  There is no need to change or go without what our society has come to accept as safe and normal.  Even from an economic standpoint, a genetic cause of autism would pretty much benefit everyone.  A proven biologically based medical condition would surely be covered under insurance (and don’t worry about the insurance companies – when and if the time comes for them to belly up to the bar, they’ll work the cost into our insurance premiums – they’re pretty good at making money no matter what), the medical practitioners will have a guaranteed stream of diagnostic/treatment-related income, the drug manufacturers will surely come up with a slew of drugs to treat the “medical” condition, testing companies will have a field day screening all of our kids, and no messy lawsuits from “those people” who believe it was some environmental insult that perpetrated the harm.

Consider the alternative, looking in the dark.  If something in the environment is causing autism, then is it really a medical condition?  And, surely, someone created the environmental condition, so maybe autism really is someone’s fault.  Can you imagine the consequences?  The lawsuits, the liability.  And, we’d have to change.  Maybe we can’t use so many pesticides.  Well, wouldn’t that hurt the farmers with increased costs of production?  Wouldn’t that hurt the vegetable and fruit eating consumers who would be forced to pay more for produce?  Maybe we can’t use scientifically created hormones and antibiotics on our farm animals.  That also hurts the farmers and consumers, and of course, the people who make the hormones and antibiotics.  What if it’s over exposure to EMR, cell phones, television/computer?  What if it’s vaccines?  What if it’s jet fuel?  Can we ever do without these ubiquitous items (yes, our parents did, and their parents did, and isn’t it interesting to note that even as late as the mid-1980’s, autism was thought to affect only about 1 in 2,500, not 1 in 100 like today?).

And, if autism is caused by something in the environment, and we simply eliminate that cause, who would turn a profit?

But, even though the light is better, is it really the place to look? 

First, and foremost, even if there is a difference in the genes of autistic individuals, the question that really needs to be answered, but apparently is not, is whether the difference is innate or the result of some external catalyst.

In other words, are different genetics the cause or the result?

Moreover, in order for autism to be a genetic disorder, unrelated to environment, one must assume either that (i) autism always existed to the extent it does today, that is in 1 of 100 individuals, and we just didn't notice it all these years, or (ii) the human race has undergone a spontaneous genetic mutation of staggering proportions over the last twenty to thirty years.

Otherwise, by definition, some external – i.e., environmental – factor must be to blame.

Now, I like science, I like math, I like facts, and I really do want to believe that autism is nothing more than a genetic accident, that no one is to blame for what happened to those affected.  I want to keep my cell phone, and watch too much TV, and not worry about the cell phone antennae and high voltage wires in my neighborhood.  I want to eat fish, and meat, and not worry about hormones or genetically modified foods.

But, I need proof.

So, if you want me to really believe that autism is 90% genetics, prove to me that ASD always existed to the extent it does today.

Show me that 1 in 100 of all 80 year olds, 70 year olds, 60, 50, 40 and 30 year olds have autism.

Explain the math that would prove that better diagnostics/different definitions could possibly account for the staggering increase in the incidence of autism.  Really, explain how you go from one in 2,500 in the mid-1980’s to one in 100 today.

Explain why there are classrooms dedicated to autistic children today that did not exist even ten years ago.  Explain why teachers are saying they see a fundamental change in our student population.

Or, terrify me, and explain how we can undergo such a dramatic, and damaging, genetic mutation -- without any external trigger -- in the span of a single generation.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Some Things Just Work Out In The Wash

You ever notice how life works out? I was training, really hard, for three races this past fall. I'm fairly competitive and hoped to win some awards. The first was the Warrior Dash - a three mile obstacle course. The second, a four mile run to support an autism foundation. The last, a 5K for a special needs school.

I convinced Robert to run the Warrior Dash with me. Of course, being young, and strong, and a high-school cross-country runner, he did no training whatsoever. He did, however engage in an awful lot of boasting about how well he was going to do while I wasted my time training.

We arrived bright and early for our run. Little did we know that it was about a mile and a half up a ski mountain, and then two miles back down.

Robert made it about 1/4 of a mile up the mountain before he had to stop, walk and be sick. Being a good daddy, I stayed with him. And, we walked, and ran a little, and walked some more, and ran a little. Robert looked green -- I was chomping at the bit to run. But, I stayed with him.

After forever, we got down to the last three obstacles at the bottom of the course. Robert went first down a 100 foot waterslide -- I had to wait for him to clear it. When Robert saw he had the lead, he took off like a bat out of hell!

I cursed him from the mud I was lying in at the bottom of the slide and took off after him at full speed. He had me, but fatigue caught up with him at the barb-wire trench we had to crawl through, and we crossed the finish line together.

Our times were pitifully slow. There was no award for me. But, I never had more fun running a race!

I was really ready for the 4 mile autism run, and I ran a good race. I improved substantially over last year's time and overall finish. Knowing that I had taken third place in my division last year, I was hoping with my much improved time, to place second this year.

Well, I didn't get second.

And, I didn't get third.

I came in fourth by 3.7 seconds. Son of a &*%#@!!

Yeah, I was ticked.
I killed myself, done well (so I thought), and NOTHING!

On to the 5K. I ran it well, but not as fast as my last 5K. I hurt at the end, and was a bit disappointed with my time.

I thought maybe I might take third in my division, maybe.

Instead, I came in FIRST in the MASTER'S DIVISION! I never dreamed I'd ever take a Masters (and, I won FIFTY dollars, to boot!).

That's my youngest, Matt, running the 5K with me last year.

A glutton for punishment, I ran one more race. A four-miler near my learning center. I didn't expect much -- it's a very competive race, and runners come from all over the state to compete.  I didn't really train hard for this one -- I originally wasn't even going to run it, but something told me to give it a shot.

I was in pain from the second mile on, but I pushed through and did okay taking fifth place in my division. But, what was truly wonderful was hearing the name of one of my former students as he crossed the finish line!

I had no idea he was running, and never would have guessed it. When he started with our program, he had coordination issues, and no one would ever have accused him of being athletic. He was also a bit distractable. He did well by us. He grew stronger, more coordinated, better able to focus, and graduated the program about two years ago. We knew what we did with him would eventually bear fruit, but we had no idea this was coming.

There he was, crossing the finish line in under thirty minutes! His dad came to me beaming. "You should see him. Cross-country, basketball, honor society and straight A's!"

The best award I ever got at the end of a race.  And, to think, I almost didn't even run.

Friday, December 3, 2010

MRIs, Autism & ADHD

I may be wrong, but I think we have another “duh” moment. According to “Brain MRI may lead to early autism detection,” reported by Nicole Ostrow of Bloomberg News, researchers studying 60 children, half diagnosed with mild autism and half without autism, were able to identify autism 94% of the time using magnetic resonance imaging. Specifically, the MRI looked at water diffusion along the brain’s nerve fibers.

The article talks of “the disorder’s biological base,” and objective markers, and early detection.

While there is no doubt that early diagnosis and more objectivity are worthy goals, I have to wonder, if autism is a neurological disorder, and even subjectively, differences in behavior, intellect and communication are readily apparent, isn’t it a given that brain processing will be different? Isn’t this just objective confirmation of what we already know? (and why only 94% success?)

Also, this test does nothing to shed light on the cause of autism. When the article discusses “the disorder’s biological base,” is it suggesting that the differences found in the autistic brain are innate, and thus, the cause of the disorder? Or, is it merely finding changes in the brain caused by some external, environmental insult (which, combined with a genetic disposition of susceptibility to such harm, is what we believe to be the true cause of the disorder)? If it’s the latter, are these differences in brain processing really a “biological base”?

And, another thought, this one regarding ADHD. We’ve always maintained that disorders like ADHD are part of the ASD spectrum (and there are researchers out there who apparently believe likewise). That is, that whatever is causing the ASD epidemic also is causing the ADHD epidemic. It’s just a different degree of effect and a different manifestation. I’ll bet if the same MRI studies were done on kids diagnosed with ADHD, the researchers would find that the ADHD brains also process information differently.

If that’s the case, then you have to wonder. We were always told by Robert’s doctors that ADHD was caused by a brain chemistry imbalance with respect to certain neurotransmitters, and that drugs were the only way to address his issues.

If the ADHD brain, like the autistic brain, processes information differently, is that really the result of a “neurotransmitter imbalance?” And, more to the point, how can messing with those neurotransmitters, as the ADHD meds are theorized to do, really fix the problem?

Just a thought.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Autism, Mitochondria, Science & Parents

Came across a very interesting article in the paper today. Delthia Ricks reports in “New angle on autism,” that “[a]utism for some children may be related to defects in the mitochondria.” This “new” finding is reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

I write “new” because this theory has been around for a while. In fact, I believe there are practitioners here on Long Island that have been testing for these defects for several years.

And, Ms. Ricks notes that “[f]or years, parents on Long Island and elsewhere have argued their children diagnosed as having autism actually are affected by mitochondrial defects but the scientific work to support their claims have been scarce. . . ‘It always takes the medical and scientific community a long time to catch up with what parents are saying,’” noted Evelyn Ain, an advocate for children with autism.

Yeah, don’t we know that!

Oh, and there was one more quote that I particularly enjoyed. Dr. Eli Hatchwell, while commenting that the findings were “intriguing but not definitive,” stated “I have said it before and I will say it again: There is no single cause of autism.”

Funny, we’ve been saying that for the last ten years!!

But, maybe now that a doctor says it . . .