Autism for All

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Autism for All 

Between July 2021 and June 2022, the number of patients with a referral for suspected autism receiving their first ‘care contact’ i.e., seeing a doctor, rose from 6,525 to 9,067 a rise of nearly forty percent. There was a 787%, increase in recorded incidence of autism diagnoses between 1998 and 2018; once very rare but now it seems that almost everyone has it. According to NHS information, this could be due to ‘growth in increased reporting and application of diagnosis.’ That is increasing diagnosis among adults, particularly women (now known only in NHS parlance as, ‘females,’ not women,) and, ‘higher functioning individuals.’ Diagnosis are now being given to two-year-olds. Not long ago more people were being diagnosed with ‘Tourette’s’ and more terrifyingly, ‘mini-strokes,’ those judgements seem to have gone the way of ‘Herpes’ a major panic in the 1980s, but we now have a massive upsurge in digestive disorders and allergies among those I still call women. Celiac disease has increased by 7.5% over the past few decades, female/male ratio 2.3:1.

Always on trend, BBC Radio 4 recently interviewed Rudy Simone, ‘Asperger Syndrome (AS) consultant’ from San Francisco, author of six books, one of them prize winning about autism. Her latest, ‘Aspergirls, Empowering Females with Asperger Syndrome.’ Recommends sufferers should stick to, ‘autism-specific diets,’ naturally gluten and casein free (GFCF) and use ‘specific carbohydrate (SCD) food. Going out, she says, they should be equipped with ‘sunglasses, hats, earplugs, iPods, comfortable clothing,’ like most other young people, water ‘to keep yourself hydrated,’ i.e., to drink, and a ‘squishy toy to prevent overload.’ We all need one of those in these stressful times when a severe mental disorder may occur at any moment especially if you eat ordinary bread. Autism is initially caused by a compromised digestive system,’ she tells us, ‘Which allows toxins from the environment and food to get into the bloodstream and ‘impact’ (sic) brain development.’ Her book is endorsed by two PhD bearing clinical psychologists, both directors of US institutes for Asperger’s Syndrome and Autism.

Almost all my well educated, middle-class women friends and neighbours are ‘gluten free’ without diagnosis, and many of their cats have to follow suit. Some take ‘probiotics’ to counter ‘toxins,’ are often, ‘lactose intolerant,’ and have to avoid many foods for vaguely specified reasons. I am currently hearing them say that, ‘The gut is part of the brain,’ which reminds me of the medieval idea of the stomach as the seat of the emotions. I am doing my bit by recently buying some ‘Vegan shoes,’ but still wilfully stick to wholemeal bread.

The move away from diagnosis by fact to fad, is part of the drive towards valuing emotion above rationality, a new culture which regards reason and evidence as only part of the truth, at least according to Oprah Winfrey’s royal interviewees, truth being only ever partial according to individual whim. I recently glimpsed the world before bothersome science was prioritised. I re-read my grandmother’s well-worn copy of, ‘1000 Medical Hints, The care of the body in health and disease,’ written authoritatively by the ‘Medical Adviser of the Sunday Chronicle.’ The paper also published advice on, ‘Legal, Sporting, Gardening and Poultry,’ price one shilling. This was a world, pre-1914, where doctors had very little in their black bags but were greatly trusted by their patients. The ‘Medical Advisor’ was chiefly armed by morality, or his idea of it; an obsession with doing without sex, rather than abstaining from flour. The book is laid out alphabetically. Circumcision of boys is recommended to prevent, ‘vicious habits.’ Followed by ‘Clergyman’s Throat,’ best treated by ‘cautery,’ carried out metaphorically these days by simply ignoring anything they say. Constipation was an ‘unavoidable evil,’ down to poor hygiene and the vanity of ‘tight lacing’ in women, best treated by cascara or better still, a visit to, ‘Homburg, for habitual constipation, (cure of). He recommends Droitwich for sciatica.

The main cause though for the most terrible afflictions, is not gluten or milk but sex. Under, ‘Sexual hygiene’ he suggests complete sexual inactivity is the best course, ‘without the slightest injury’ to anyone. ‘Vicious habits’ or masturbation take up several pages because they lead to sexual incontinence which causes epilepsy, which should be treated by a visit to, ‘The lethal (gas) chamber.’  ‘Irritable impotence’ is due to ‘excessive venery or masturbation,’ and venery leads to the dreaded syphilis which not even a trip to Baden Baden  could cure. It has more pages than anything else. He is a bit vague about its possible causes, ‘It may be acquired through smoking a pipe previously used by a syphilitic subject,’ or, ‘By the nibbling of a pencil, the property of someone with the disease,’ but he thinks it’s mainly caused from kissing and sexual intercourse, by those who’ve ignored his chapter on ‘hygiene.’ He, and my grandparents, lived in a world of suppurating sores, chancres and buboes, people driven insane in the later stages of the illness, giving birth to blind and deformed babies, and all there was to tackle it was potassium iodide powder, arsenic, mercury and chalk. Cod-liver-oil for affected children. It was common in those times to see people in the street affected by Locomotor Ataxy, another symptom, a disease of the spinal chord which prevented the knees from bending so people had to jerk their legs outwards to walk. That wasn’t connected to Syphilis at that time, but the writer decides that, ‘sexual excess was an aggravating factor.’

A few problems described are not related to sex; on a page advertising cures for blindness, deafness and rupture, he tackles, ‘Railway-Spine,’ and recommends that you sue the railway company for it. Obesity can be treated by a trip to Marienbad Spa, or the ‘Salisbury System,’ which meant drinking large amounts of water rather than eating. Perhaps it could now be adapted to talking about politics to the same end. Whoever the good doctor of The Chronicle was, it could have been one of the post boys on a day off, despite his obsession with chastity, I prefer him to the latest faddists who, unlike him, do not have the excuse that the correct information was not available. The writer applauds the arrival of vaccination, which he says has brought small-pox, ‘down to 2% of the population.’ He understands that the discover of microbes will change medicine and may provide a cure for ‘Consumption,’ which was still annually killing 20,000 people in England and Wales by 1948.  In 2016 down to just over a hundred deaths.

The writer is floundering with what he doesn’t, can’t know, but looks forward to new evidence, grasping for medical cures which are just out of reach. What would he make of his rich, safe, healthy descendants, although it’s doubtful that that he had any clients, (cf ‘sexual hygiene,’) who now demand a ‘wholistic’ approach to medicine, a burgeoning new market in the US labelled ‘Holism,’ which claims to treat the entire body, spirit and mind, rather than individual symptoms, and recourse to pharmaceuticals is seen as a failure. He would envy and pity our culture of affluence and the mental conditions it produces, which my grandparents might have termed, spoilt, self-indulgent and silly. Or as the good doctor put it, ‘Cretins are not unknown in England.’ He thought they existed most in Lancashire, now they seem to be everywhere and proliferating. He knew of a new treatment using thyroid extract, now it’s more about getting a diagnosis and an acronym whether you need it or not. We have moved to a culture where consulting a physician is no longer about managing a terrible disease but winning the diagnosis of a fashionable one; and wearing it like a badge.


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9 Comments on Autism for All

  1. The cultural triumph of neo-Marxism is indeed that of emotionalism over reason. One must feel outrage for the supposedly disadvantaged sex, race and gendered, and bleed for the earth goddess, Gaia.

  2. Good piece Jane. I’ve been flying Singapore Airlines between Brisbane and Heathrow once or twice a year for 26 years, in economy class, and it’s been very noticeable over those years how the ‘special’ meal requests have steadily increased, even though the standard fare is very good. I’ve just done my first trip for three years, due to the enforced lockdowns, and it’s got even more noticeable. It takes the hostesses around 20 minutes to trot these out before coming through with the regular service, and that’s on top of the delay in starting the service while they organise the specials in the galley. The people getting these for the most part look reasonably healthy & normal to me, in fact many look in their twenties. I should add, the option of arranging a special meal has been around for a long time…..but was so rarely used to go unnoticed.

  3. Great minds think alike. Three days ago I wrote an entry in my blog,( entitled “On Autism: How much adult autism is the medicalisation of egocentricity?”

    • And the answer is?
      The problem is not egocentricity itself but the inability accurately to recognise social signals from others. As for actual medication the drugs like lithium or haloperidol used for other psychoses are inappropriate. We live and learn.

  4. A very good article. Indeed, I have been aware for years of the way the term ‘autism’ has been overused. (I used to work with autistic people – that is to say, ‘classic’ autism: where people need constant support and are unable to live independently).

    There are lots of people getting diagnosed with being ‘aspies’ and being ‘on the spectrum’; and if we are all ‘on the spectrum’… then the term ‘autism’ means nothing.

    When words are overused and are used inaccurately, they lose definition; they lose meaning. I have suspected for a long time that ‘autism’ is such a word.

    Again, a fine article.

    • There is a spectrum with different degrees of self-focus, sensitivity and social incompetence. A key feature is inability to emphasise with others, resulting in “tactless” observations at best and mistaken imaginations of the motives and actions of other people, sometimes apparently akin to schizoid paranoia. Autism can be tested by practical experiments in the case of children. Of course, most people, fortunately, are not autistic. Autism is a disability and disabilities themselves are not to be celebrated, but tolerated or treated or cured when possible.

  5. My elder daughter is a high-IQ Asperger. My wife has taught young children identified as autistic. There is no doubt that there has been an increase in correct diagnostic analysis of key symptoms. Causes of this disability? Who knows? Cures? Who knows?