Autism Rates on the Rise -- Can We Treat It?

By: Liam Martin Email
By: Liam Martin Email

EAST LANSING -- Four-year-old Jonathan Stokes can't talk.

He flaps his hands to communicate with his mother Anne. Jonathan's autistic, diagnosed at age 2.

"So devastating," Anne Stokes says. "Because it kind of kills a lot of your dreams."

Jonathan's not alone. New research shows one in 150 American children is diagnosed with autism, a neurological disorder that generally ranges from milder social deficits to moderate mental retardation. The newest ratio for the syndrome in boys? One in 68.

Dr. Brooke Ingersoll runs the Autism Lab at Michigan State University. She says the upside of that boost in numbers is an all-out push in recent years for research and treatment of autism.

"We are definitely getting better at treating autism than we were, say, 15 to 20 years ago," Ingersoll says.

Dr. John Wycoff has certainly witnessed an influx of autistic patients at his Wellness Center in East Lansing. He believes he can treat the syndrome -- and open doors previously closed to many autistic children.

"You can give the child something as simple as a B-12 shot, and the child will start to talk," Wycoff says.

B-12 injections, of course, are just one part of Dr. Wycoff's approach -- the so-called biomedical intervention, which treats autism (as well as other heath issues) throughout diet, vitamin supplementation, even hyperbaric oxygen chambers. The parents here at the Wycoff Wellness Center -- including Anne Stokes -- say biomedical simply works.

"He's been on an antibiotic for three weeks now and has made huge progress -- in signs and words," Stokes says. "He's doing thing he wasn't doing two weeks ago."

Stephanie Harlan's son Justin was diagnosed with a pretty serious case of autism at age 2. He had startedt to lose motor skills he previously had, stopped eating, stopped talking, avoided eye contact with his mother. Stephanie put him on biomedical treatment.

By age 5, Justin was completely recovered.

"I wouldn't say quite cured," the precocious 10-year-old says. "But recovered."

But Dr. Ingersoll isn't quite sold on the biomedical approach.

"Many of the biomedical interventions that are prescribed are based on theories that do not have a lot of good evidence," she says.

Ingersoll stresses that doesn't necessarily mean biomedical isn't legit. It's simply not very well-researched at this point. Wycoff argues his clinic is all the evidence he needs.

"If they saw a child who doesn't talk get a shot of B-12 and speak a day later, I think they'd have a different opinion," he says.

Wycoff and Ingersoll also differ on the cause of the recent uptick in autism rates. Wycoff claims it's malnutrition and American's fast-food culture. Ingersoll isn't so sure.

"There's definitely a higher number of children who have a diagnoses now than did 10 years ago, but that doesn't necessarily mean that we're having an increase in autism," she says.

Ingersoll argues we're simply getting better at diagnosing the syndrome, especially in younger children, and have recently broadened our criteria for an autism diagnosis. Her approach to treatment? Much more grounded in traditional behavioral therapy.

At her MSU lab, Ingersoll is experimenting with a somewhat new behavioral treatment. Autism children are asked to imitate their parents' play, something they struggle to do in daily social situations.

"Children that don't imitate well have a hard time learning from their environment," Ingersoll says. "They have a hard time engaging in social interactions with other individuals. So imitation has been identified as a crucial or pivotal behavior to target in early intervention."

Either way, Ingersoll and Wycoff certainly agree. Autism treatment has come a long way in recent years.

"We've gotten much better at identifying autism in younger children, so we're able to enroll them in intervention earlier, so the long-term prognoses for children with autism is hopefully much better now than they were in the past," Ingersoll says.

A point just about every parent of an autistic child is excited to hear.

Should Insurance Providers Cover Treatment For Autism?


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Comments are posted from viewers like you and do not always reflect the views of this station.
  • by Jean Location: Westlake on Dec 27, 2009 at 07:08 PM
    I have a child that is MR, so there is no cure for that. But I do work with children that are Autistic and I went to this lecture that was wonderful! The doctors name was Dr. Robert Melillo who is in Thousand Oaks, Ca. He talked about how the brain is so unbalanced and how getting the brain to be balance again is the main thing (this is in a small nut shell) but you can get his book that is filled with so much information about Autism it's called Disconnected Kids. I really believe there is a cure for autism if you work hard with that child through diet and research. We as parents are their biggest advocate, and it's up to us to find that cure for them.
  • by anonymous on Dec 1, 2009 at 08:01 PM
    The story failed to mention all the other treatments that Jonathan is receiving, such as ABA through Residential Options, Inc. Can we absolutely rule out this as a factor contributing to his improvement and attribute it all to a vitamin shot? It seems as though certain people in the field aren't being very evidence-based which may perpetuate misconceptions in the community, in turn doing a disservice to parents who think that doctors have found a cure. In fact, numerous factors may have contributed to this child beginning to speak.
  • by Mindmess Location: Jackson on Nov 24, 2009 at 11:10 AM
    This might be of interest for this subject http://lewisautismstory.com/default.aspx
  • by beth Location: lake orion on Nov 24, 2009 at 07:32 AM
    THANK YOU all around to those who helped get this story some main stream coverage! It is so important for individual s with a diagnosis and their familes to know of this non-invasive way that addresses the medical needs that seem to be a pattern with so many on the spectrum. We as a society have so much to learn at how healing diet and supplements can be as a whole, but even more so for those with profiles that are deficient in vital elements. My son has been on a path for over 12 years that includes a change in diet and increased supplements. Cured? no. Better quality of life? YES!!! Again, thank you for this attention!
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