The Autism Revolution: Whole-Body Strategies for Making Life All It Can Be by Martha Herbert, MD, PhD (Harvard Health Publications, Harvard Medical School, Ballantine Books, 2012), is a revolutionary disappointment as per the opinion of Savely Yurkovsky, MD.
As a physician treating autism, I have found The Autism Revolution to be more of a revolutionary disappointment because what the book claims to deliver the actual content of the book has clearly failed its highly fanfared title.
While it is natural for every publisher and author to attract the reader through a catchy title, however, coming from the author who impresses with her credentials in medical science and book cover displaying the name of a noble university, the book’s recipes defy sound criteria of science, let alone revolution.
Leaving more detailed analysis of numerous scientific flaws of The Autism Revolution for another forum, here are just a few striking deficiencies which I have encountered in this book:
- For someone who claims the proprietary rights to a revolution in science, the book is strikingly void of originality and even of a sound creative element which are necessary to meet such a claim. Instead, Dr. Herbert repackages old agendas of mainly biochemical-pharmaceutical approaches such as DAN and functional medicine all of which have correspondingly failed in autism or in any chronic disease.
- While Dr. Herbert tries to impress with presenting some formally correct scientific findings, she fails to realize that, as it has been the case with numerous authors and scientists, particularly in inexact sciences as medicine, the findings must be assembled in a capable theory in order to achieve the goal – cure or high consistency in producing good progress in autism in this case. Yet, her theory or rather scattered thoughts are very vague in identifying concrete causative agents of autism. It also fails to offer the most capable diagnostic, therapeutic and preventative means to address these causative agents. While mentioning toxic agents, she seems unaware that the ultimate science that studies these – toxicology – finds the laboratory tests as unreliable and that all pharmaceutical detoxifying treatments, including alternative ones, yield poor results. Such potentially important agents in the etiology of autism as vaccines she, politically, avoids. While she underscores the immaturity of a baby’s immune system, she does not explain how this immature immune system can handle so many vaccines starting even from the first hours of life.
- As a conventional biochemically/pharmaceutically-trained doctor, she picks only those body chemistry and pharmacy-based corresponding diagnostic and therapeutic modalities from alternative medicine that she can relate to while overlooking their numerous deficiencies as evidenced by their consistent failures in the treatment of chronic diseases. Her limited knowledge base prevents her from understanding a far greater value in the ability of an alternative diagnostic method – bioresonance testing – to detect the true causes of autism, completely non-invasively and, likewise, of homeopathy to address these causes. She dismisses homeopathy due to its unproven efficacy while even conventional medical peer-review journals have published summaries of homeopathic clinical trials establishing just the opposite. Likewise, she avoids facing legitimate homeopathic scientific research demonstrating its efficacy in treating and protecting from toxicological and infectious agents, while she guesses that some of these agents might be related to autism. While on p. 45, she correctly mentions bacterial and parasitic resistance to antibiotics, she is unaware that homeopathy avoids such resistance because it directs and trains the immune system itself to do the job.
- Some of her recommendations of self-help can be viewed as even ones of self-harm. She recommends fish or cod-liver oil, “filtered from toxins”, according to the bottle label. Yet, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine established that these products too contain mercury. She recommends B12, among numerous supplements of clearly unproven therapeutic value, yet according to the evidence in scientific literature, B12 can enhance the conversion of inorganic mercury in the body into its most neurotoxic form, methylmercury. She recommends probiotics, yet the American Academy of Pediatrics warns of its potentially harmful side-effects in severely immune-compromised children. And while she states that autistic children are immuno-compromised, she cannot possibly know the degree of severity in individual children. Besides, she seems unaware that probiotics can cause disastrous side-effects by killing yeasts and large parasites which may release mercury that will lodge in the brain.
As she recommends a slew of vitamins across the board “to strengthen the immune system”, and mentions autoimmune processes in autism, it is not clear who and how will prevent these vitamins from boosting autoimmunity versus curing immunosuppression. Likewise, her recommendations of machine-gunning antioxidants into these children in order to combat free radicals is contradicted by numerous scientific studies demonstrating these actually promoting even cancer and heart disease, instead of protecting.
While Dr. Herbert recommends children being repeatedly stuck with needles to be tested, referring to some private lab as the Metametrix Institute and its manual to justify its own business, she neglects to mention that these tests have led to zero cures from any chronic disease or autism.
- While, correctly, not recommending chelation for mercury and other metals due to its side-effects, and homeopathy due to its “unproven efficacy”, yet she includes in her “successful” cases, children who were treated with these on top of other methods too. This raises a simple question – What is “her” method? Obviously, it is a barrage of any treatments in the hope that something, somehow may work.
- Naturally, the most revealing aspect of the true value of any scientific theory including The Autism Revolution is its actual results. But here we find more of a pitch to parents to produce revolutionary heroics in subjecting their children to any treatment they could put their hands on rather than Dr. Herbert’s demonstrating the actual success of her “revolution”: Here, out of her alleged many positive stories, she hardly presents even a handful. Yet, several cases did not even have autism, by its strict definitions! They were bright individuals with or without speech impairment. Furthermore, a few who did have autistic traits and many associated medical problems did not seem to have resolved either both or many of these. Her most “successful” example, Daniel, did not have autism, but only OCD and food allergies, yet the true cause of his food allergies – parasites (in my experience) – has been clearly mismanaged as he turned from just a picky eater to a “human garbage” (her expression). While the latter she presents as success, it clearly contradicts her statement on pg. 34 of the American diet being a disaster. Naturally, these “human garbage” kids are heading toward obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer, as per current statistics.
Because she added so many other “dimensions” or medical problems which autistic or any children might have, she uses these to formally claim success in treating autism in this reported handful of cases just because these other problems have improved. But this is as accurate as if I was to succeed in improving associated sinus infections in cancer patients and claim to cure cancer?!
Yet, on page 114, she actually admits to biomedical approaches working only sometimes in autism, that is quite different from the pep talk of many “positive stories” mentioned at the beginning of the book.
Other statements of hers defy sound scientific standards, besides its Autism Revolution title. Among these – what to make of this: “You don’t have to totally get over autism or other problems to be extraordinary”, pg. 203. It admits that the “revolution” may fail to solve autism or other problems. Why then name this a “revolution” since even some unlicensed “healer” may produce the same results? While it is obvious that all children, autistic and other, are truly unique, yet if any child with reduced autism or other problems becomes extraordinary based on this reduction alone, then all of the children without autism or associated problems are extraordinary to begin with. So , how many just ordinary children are we left with and what will happen to the definition of “extraordinary” of Webster’s dictionary? I cannot fathom how any serious scientist may utter such a sales pitch. Likewise, how many parents need a “Harvard professor” to keep repeating that they must love their children? I have never seen more dedicated parents in my life than parents of autistic children. I guess this “Love thy children” cliché had to buttress the “self-help” section.
In conclusion, Dr. Herbert’s “revolution” from strictly scientific criteria lacks sufficient knowledge, precision, creativity and productive results which are all prerequisites to even remotely match such a promise.
by Savely Yurkovsky, MD