Wednesday, December 9, 2015

What Herbalists Need to Know About Autism

"We need to help Autistic children now or else we will be paying for them in prison later."

The opening words of David Winston's lecture hit me like a punch in the stomach.

It was the fall of 2013, and I had only been "out" as Autistic in my professional life for a short time, and was still figuring out the implications of understanding and embracing my neurobiology.   Perhaps I should have known that a workshop called "Autism Spectrum Disorders and the Search for Answers"  was going to treat me as a problem to be solved, another puzzle piece, rather than as a person to be engaged and understood.   Maybe if I had known I would have found language that day, found a way to be able to respond directly to the things that were being said and implied about people like me.   But I was caught off guard and felt afraid of confronting a widely respected elder in a place where I didn't know if I could count on anyone else for support, so I bit my tongue and held back my tears and pulled myself together in time to teach my next class.

Now, two years later, I have the same sick feeling in my gut that I had that afternoon, as I see that the journal published by the same organization that sponsored the conference where Winston delivered that lecture, the American Herbalist Guild, has published an article on Autism by another prominent herbalist who sees my neurobiology as a pathology.   K.P. Khalsa's article is gentler than Winston's lecture, and his interest in Autism is clearly inspired by his love for his Autistic adult daughter, but it is still firmly rooted in a paradigm that presumes that there is one correct way for human nervous systems to develop and operate, and that the goal of medicine should be to make Autistic minds and bodies less Autistic.   

Tonight, I have words to speak.  And they are directed not just to Winston or Khalsa or the AHG, but to the entire herbal community.  It is time for everyone to learn and understand some important things about Autism:

1)  Autism is not a disorder.

Autism is a natural variation in human neurobiology that has existed throughout the history of our species.   As Autistic scholar, Nick Walker, writes:
"Autism is a genetically-based human neurological variant. The complex set of interrelated characteristics that distinguish autistic neurology from non-autistic neurology is not yet fully understood, but current evidence indicates that the central distinction is that autistic brains are characterized by particularly high levels of synaptic connectivity and responsiveness. This tends to make the autistic individual’s subjective experience more intense and chaotic than that of non-autistic individuals: on both the sensorimotor and cognitive levels, the autistic mind tends to register more information, and the impact of each bit of information tends to be both stronger and less predictable.
"Autism is a developmental phenomenon, meaning that it begins in utero and has a pervasive influence on development, on multiple levels, throughout the lifespan. Autism produces distinctive, atypical ways of thinking, moving, interaction, and sensory and cognitive processing. One analogy that has often been made is that autistic individuals have a different neurological 'operating system' than non-autistic individuals."
Neurodiversity -- the diversity of neurobiologies -- is as essential to the health of a culture as biodiversity is to the health of an ecosystem.   Traditionally, in many cultures, people whose modes of perception varied from the majority's were recognized and trained as people who could be seers on behalf of their communities and intercessors with other-than-human realms.  This culture has treated only one form of perception and sensation and processing and communication as permissible, and as a result is now enduring a crisis of vision as it confronts human and ecological catastrophes.

Oh, and there is no such thing as an "Autism epidemic."  The increase in the number of Autism diagnoses in recent years is the result of changes in diagnostic criteria, and was accurately predicted by those who wrote those criteria.

2)  Attempts to "prevent" or "cure" Autism are, by definition, expressions of eugenics.

To speak about eliminating a genetically-based variation in the biology underlying consciousness is to speak about eliminating a way of being, a way of seeing, a way of feeling.  As one of the people whose existence some of you would like to prevent our cure, I read such expressions to be declarations of war.

3) "High function" and "low function" are inherently oppressive concepts.

What we are supposed to be "functioning" as is as economically productive members of society.  And as people who act enough like neurotypical people to avoid making other people uncomfortable with our presence.   Categorizing us as "low functioning" or "high functioning" dismisses both the beauty and genius of the minds of Autistic people who don't speak or don't hold jobs or can't still their hands and the struggles of Autistic people who can do those things, but sometimes only at great cost to our health,  who still face stress and trauma related to the difficulty of navigating a society shaped by and for non-Autistic people.

4) No understanding of Autistic health is complete if it doesn't integrate an understanding of the biological and psychological impacts of trauma and chronic stress.

To be Autistic in this culture is to live in a world of physically painful sensory overstimulation, where we are  subjected to social norms that demand that we suppress our natural expressions and perceptions, and where we are marginalized and pathologized.  As people whose experience of the world is inherently intense, we are more vulnerable to trauma than many others, and living in a culture of enforced neurotypicality is universally stressful and frequently traumatizing to Autistic people.   Other people's failure to understand, and hence empathize with, and our difficulties in navigating relationships with people whose modes of perception and communication are very difficult for us to understand also make us more likely to experience physical, emotional, and sexual violenc than the general population.

Many of the "symptoms" and "co-morbidities" associated with Autism -- anxiety, depression, digestive disruption, dysautonomia, hypertension, autoimmune disease, asthma, allergies -- can be caused or exacerbated by the neuroendocrine disruptions caused by trauma and chronic stress.  Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder should almost always be investigated as a potential factor in our health problems.


5) Our "symptoms" are differences with the majority of the culture, not problems to be solved.

Let's take a look, if we must, at the official diagnostic criteria for Autism.

We are said to have "persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction" because we have trouble recognizing social cues and adhering to social norms  and  we display "abnormalities in eye contact and body language or deficits in understanding and use of gesture."   People claim that we can't read body language well -- but it turns out we read each others' body language and facial expressions quite well, we just have a hard time relating to the body language and facial expressions of non-Autistic people.  But, you know what?  Non-Autistic people have a harighly restricted, fixated interests that are abnormal in intensity or focusd time understanding our nonverbal signals.   And most of us do way better understanding the signals sent by non-Autistic people than Autistic people do understanding the signals we send.   One additional "problem" we have:  when there is a discrepancy between someone's words and gestures, or between their outward communication and their presence, we often don't know which signals we are "supposed" to believe and end up responding in ways that are more honest than polite.   

As for our other "symptoms":

"stereotyped or repetitive motor movements, use of objects, or speech" - aka stims - represent our attempts to create a single stimulus strong enough to drown out the flood of sensation being carried across our nervous systems in order to ground ourselves in overwhelming situations . .

"insistence on sameness, inflexible adherence to routines, or ritualized patterns of verbal or nonverbal behavior" is another way of managing overwhelm in environments crafted by and for people with dramatically different from ours . . .

"highly restricted, fixated interests that are abnormal in intensity or focus" are passions we follow deeply enough and doggedly enough to discover patterns and possibilities no one else ever perceived . .

"hyper- or hyporeactivity to sensory input or unusual interest in sensory aspects of the environment" means we respond to sensory stimuli in ways that are different from the majority of the population.

None of these are "symptoms" to be treated.

6) Nobody else can speak for us.

Non-Autistic family members and friends and partners of Autistic people have their own experiences of the world.    Some involve frustrations and challenges communicating and collaborating across a neurological divide.   Some involve compassion and solidarity with Autistic people.  Some involve really fucked up ideas about how they wish we were different or wish we didn't exist.   They can speak for themselves.   They and their organizations cannot and do not speak for us.

7)  We have good reasons to be wary of "natural" and "alternative" healthcare providers.

There are a lot of Autistic herbalists.   And there are a lot of non-Autistic herbalists who support Autistic people in compassionate ways.    But there are also a lot of herbalists and naturopaths and people who look and sound to all the world like herbalists and naturopaths who go around talking about preventing and curing Autism.   There are a host of cruel and bizarre Autism treatments advocated by people who call themselves alternative or natural health practitioners -- eg bleach enemas.   And the natural health community as a whole, and the herbal community in particular, have been major vectors for the transmission of toxic myths about Autism.  So don't be surprised if Autistic clients are a little nervous and hesitant at first.   

Still want to work with us?  Great!  Learn more about our lives by reading Autistic writers   (and good allies like Steve Silberman.) And then come meet us from a place of openness, curiosity, kindness, and respect, and wll will go well!



35 comments:

DandeLion Grove said...

Thank you for this insightful post!

Savannah Logsdon-Breakstone said...

Thank you for this. I'm an autistic adult raised by a non-autistic but neurodivergent herbalist and reiki practitioner, and I often feel like I have to choose between how I was brought up- with respectful alternative medicine- and vast swaths of the autistic community (which as you've noted is super wary and often skeptical of alternative medicine!) So this was really nice to read.

Luna Rossi said...

Very insightful, thank you. I think that Often herbalists and naturopaths talk about curing autism in the sense of reversing autistic-like symptoms which are not due to specific innate neurological processing, but are caused by external factors which inhibit the normal functioning of the nervous system and neurological processing, like an overload of toxins and allergies. In other words often people who are diagnosed with autism are not actually autistic in the true sense of their neurological mapping, and naturopaths work to rebalance those individuals. Or at least this is what I understood from my lectures..

Carrie Chauhan said...

What a well-timed article for me personally, as I struggle with how to be the best parent I can be to a son with apraxia. While different than autism, but with some crossover, it helps with my questions and struggles of how to authentically be there for him. It was so helpful to read this. Thank you.

Geo Derick - Geo's Joy said...

Beautiful reminder that life is full of mystery and differences, and that different does not mean pathologic. Thank you for bringing this to light. I recall in my medical anthropology classes that our so called diagnoses of schizophrenics are, in some cultures, simply those who speak with the spirit world and are considered holy. There are many ways of being in our world.

GreenFlame said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anna H. said...

This is a beautiful post, and I am grateful that autistic people such as yourself are entering into dialog with those of who have ... dominant? neuro-wiring.

A concern behind all this are people with autism who will not be able to lead lives of agency in our culture. My adult stepson is an example, a man who cannot speak or communicate clearly in other ways, who cannot cook for himself or take care of any of the basic activities of daily living, who harms himself and his mother - who has to wear a football helmet so he doesn't pull all her hair out or knock her unconscious -- and his sister (who is also autistic). He is a wonderful man.

But I see his father lie awake and weep, literally, at the thought of what will be come of this wonderful young man when his parents die. In this culture of ever-diminishing financial resources to support and maintain the health of men and women such as my stepson, and stepdaughter, too, please don't think it's an act of war to try to figure out some way to assist people such as him to be able to ... have more independence and agency in this world, and especially after his parents and caregivers die.

Jen said...

Anna H., Thanks for adding this important piece to the conversation. While the author's concerns about the labelling of neuro divergent people, including designations as low or high functioning, are timely and have great validity, let's not forget those who truly are unable to care for themselves because of their autism. Let's not drown out their "voice" by insisting that all autism is simply an expression of diversity.

Bobby Moore said...

I don't think I've ever read in words something so similar to my own thoughts. I'm an Autistic person who has been kicked around in life to the point that I desire little, if any, social stimulus anymore. I avoid most people as a result of not being able to understand/accept their behavior. This has left me in varying stages of homelessness for a long time now. the last few years I've been focused on trying to set myself up in a secluded environment to live among plants & animals but otherwise be a hermit. I don't even know why I'm writing this except to tell you that the words you wrote sent a feeling through me that demanded that I stand and be counted. I hope others see this and are able to feel a little less hopeless.

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Heather said...

Thank you,
I work with several clients, young men - boys from 13 - 24 that have been diagnosed with Autism. The biggest thing I've had to learn is to relax and work in the space that they allow me.
Thank you for this blog and the reminder to respect the place we are in and not push or place someone in a box that works for what the world around us says is the exceptionable way to behave.

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Tina Jose said...

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Desert said...

Your writing is the first I have come across about autism that has made any sense to me in a deep way. I've just in the last year or so begun a process of validating my divergent experience of the world but have had a hard time finding information that didn't just leave me feeling like a freak. I tend to stick with reading about empaths as the language tends to be more accessible. Your words are definitely a game changer and I appreciate you sharing yourself and mind.

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nicole said...

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2. HERPES
3. CANCER
4. ALS
5. Hepatitis B
6. Diabetes

7 Ex, Back love spell

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kim cole said...

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nicole said...

I’m giving a testimony about Dr itua the great Herbalist man, he has the cure to all manner of diseases such as.
1. HIV/AIDS

2. HERPES
3. CANCER
4. ALS
5. Hepatitis B
6. Diabetes

7 Ex, Back love spell

he cured my herpes simplex virus, though I went through different website. I saw different testimonies about different spell casters and herbalist, I was like: ‘Many people’s have the herpes simplex virus cure why are people still suffering from it? I thought of it. Then I contacted Dr itua via email: drituaherbalcenter@gmail.com. I didn’t believe him that much, I just wanted to give him a try, he replied my mail and Needed some Information about me, then I sent them to him, he prepared it (CURE) and sent it to me Fed-ex delivery, he gave my details to the FedEx Office, they told me that 2-3 days I will receive the parcel and i took the medicine as prescribed by him and I went for check-up 2 weeks after finishing the medicine, I was tested herpes simplex virus negative. if you are herpes simplex virus patient do me a favor by you contacting him and I assure anyone who is suffering it, your problem will never remain the same again you will be cured. Also Dr itua help my sisters husband to cure his HIV/AIDS he was suffering from for the past 3 years. After he cured my herpes simplex virus, then my sister heard about it, she went home to tell her husband about Dr itua then her husband emailed him and explained his problem to him. He also prepare herbal medicine and he use fed-ex delivery to sent him the herbal medicine and he instruct him on how he will be using it for 14 days. That on the 15 day of it, he should go and check his self in the hospital and he did as he was instructed by Dr itua. To GOD be the glory he was cured of his HIV/AIDS which he was suffering from for the past 3 years thanks to these great man we will ever remain grateful to you Sir indeed might work you did in our families. When you contact him, make sure you tell him that I refer you.. contact him via: drituaherbalcenter@gmail.com...mobile number +2348149277967

loveth mable said...

I have been suffering from (HERPES SIMPLEX VIRUS) disease for the past two years and had constant pain, especially in my knees. During the first year,I had faith in God that i would be healed someday.This disease started circulating all over my body and i have been taking treatment from my doctor, few weeks ago i came on search on the internet if i could get any information concerning the prevention of this disease, on my search i saw a testimony of someone who has been healed from (Herpes virus) by this Man Dr Aba and she also gave the email address: ((dr.abaherbalhome@gmail.com)) of this man and advise we should contact him for any sickness that he would be of help, so i wrote to Dr. Aba telling him about my (HERPES Virus) he told me not to worry that i was going to be cured!! hmm i never believed it,, well after all the procedures and remedy given to me by this man few weeks later i started experiencing changes all over me as the Dr assured me that i have cured,after some time i went to my doctor to confirmed if i have be finally healed behold it was TRUE, So friends my advise is if you have such sickness or any other at all you can email::dr.abaherbalhome@gmail.com or you can whatsApp his number on +2348107155060

JANE SMITH said...




Am James smith from USA... this is unbelievable i have be suffering for {Genital Herpes virus} how i get cure from my herpes virus with the help of Dr Adagba is a great herbalist man from Africa in Nigeria,people do say Nigeria are all scam i believe and just give a try to him after i have been scam by 4 different people in that country,i meet Dr Adagba email on website,though I went through different website I saw different testimonies about different spell casters and herbalist, I was like: 'Many people have this Human Papilloma virus (HPV) why are people still suffering from it?' I though of it, then I contact Dr ADAGBA via email, I didn't believe him that much,I just wanted to give him a try,he told me that he will prepare herbal cure that i will take in 2 week,so he can prepare a herbal cure on me from his temple.. after three days I started getting more stronger my blood started flowing normally i started experiencing changes all over me as the great Dr Adagba assured me that i have been cured,after some time i went to the doctor to confirmed if i have be finally healed behold it was TRUE,and kind of spell you can think of or any illness i advice you all to contact him: adagbaspiritualtemple@gmail.com if you have hepatitis B herpes cancer Hiv/AIDS any kind of and he also do love spell,urgent cure to your disease and have a good health as he always want to be.his private email: adagbaspiritualtemple@gmail.com you can call or whatsapp him for any information his Mobil number +2349057354407 you can visit his website:
http://adagbaspiritualtem9.wixsite.com/mysite

JOHNSON KATE said...

As a sign of gratitude for how my husband was saved from asthma , i decided to reach out to those still suffering from this.
My husband suffered asthma and it was really tough and heartbreaking for me because he was my all and the symptoms were terrible, we tried various therapies prescribed by our neurologist but none could cure him. I searched for a cure and i saw a testimony by someone who was cured and so many other with similar body problem, and he left the contact of the doctor who had the herbal cure to asthma . I never imagined asthma has a cure not until i contacted him and he assured me my husband will be fine. I got the herbal medication he recommended and my husband used it and in one months he was fully okay even up till this moment he is so full of life. asthma has a cure and it is a herbal cure contact the doctor for more info on drwilliams098765@gmail.com on how to get the medication. Thanks for reading my story

Jessical Alba said...

ALL THANKS TO DR WILLIAMS WITH HIS HERBAL PORTION AM NOW FREE FROM GENITAL HERPES
I can’t believe that my GENITAL HERPES is really cured. is by this time last year I start feeling bad about my life, I feel pain everyday of my life but am very happy now that am really cured I couldn’t have done this on my own. I was searching the internet about this sickness last months when I found about the great Dr Williams,on how he have be helping people with different types of disease with his herbal portion. I wrote to Dr Williams 'on his email about my problem, immediately I got a reply from him asking me to fill a form which I immediately did and send back to him, after some minutes he reply me that he have work on my cure that I need to provide some materials which can enable him to work on my cure which I did on the next day of it, after some hours he inform me that he has gotten the things needed for the preparation of the herbal medication that will cure me compliantly from GENITAL HERPES VIRUS. After he finish preparing the medication, he send it to me and also gave me instructions on how i will be taking the medication. I did exactly as instructed and behold, after 4Weeks my GENITAL HERPES VIRUS got cured. I cant believe I was negative a big thanks to him, am very happy now with my family. you can also get your self cured too from this sickness by contacting him through his email: DRWILLIAMS098765@GMAIL.COM for advice and for his product

Sharon Matas said...

DR. OKOROM HERBAL HOME
dr-okorom.webs.com
I never believed i would be healed someday.This disease started circulate all over my body and i have been taking treatment from my doctor, few weeks ago i came on search on the internet if i could get any information concerning the prevention of this disease, on my search i saw a testimony of someone who has been healed from (Hepatitis B and Cancer) by this Man dr.okorom and she also gave the email address of this man and advise we should contact him for any sickness that he would be of help, so i wrote to dr.okoromspellhome@live.com telling him about my (HERPES Virus) he told me not to worry that i was going to be cured!! hmm i never believed it,, well after all the procedures and remedy given to me by this man few weeks later i started experiencing changes all over me as the Dictor Shapson assured me that i have cured,after some time i went to my Dr to confirmed if i have be finally healed behold it was TRUE, So friends my advise is if you have such sickness or any other at all you can email dr.okorom on : dr.okoromspellhome@live.com or call +2348158168556 http://dr-okorom.webs.com/

Kathy Walter said...

I am 50 years old and I was told I had COPD 10 years ago. I immediately quit smoking, but as the years pass by my situation gets worse, and I started having attacks once a year, then every six months, and later every 3 to 4 months I was in the hospital. I used to be able to exercise, but it was so hard because i was out of breath. I see people say exercise, but understand this, you can`t exercise if you`re out of breath. I live off steroids and became type 2 diabetic from the steroids, but they`were the only medicine that kept me going. No one knows how you really feel unless they have been through your situation, not even some doctors. When the steroids no longer helps, i was introduced to Health herbal clinic in Johannesburg who have successful herbal treatment to COPD and other lungs diseases. I spoke to few people who used the treatment here in USA and they all gave a positive response, so i immediately purchased the copd herbal remedy and commenced usage, i used the herbal supplement for only 9 weeks, all symptoms gradually faded away, herbs are truly gift from God. contact this herbal clinic via their email healthherbalclinic @ gmail. com or visit www. healthherbalclinic. weebly. com