While out shopping recently, a book called Enzymes for Autism and other Neurological Conditions caught my eye. The author claims that the right combination of digestive enzymes improves bowel movements and decreases neurological conditions such as autism and other related development disorders. I was highly annoyed that this author was shoveling crap at desperate parents mystified by autism, their children’s difficulty socializing and communicating, and displays of bizarre behaviors.
One in 88 children and 1 in 54 boys are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. A few years ago, the rate was estimated at 1 in 120 children. Autism is rising because clinicians have better screening tools.
Enzyme therapy is the latest snake oil for parents at their wits end coping with children having pervasive neurological conditions. One enzymes advocate claimed that regular bowel movements reduced her son’s tantrums, increased his attention span and improved his speech.
Despite a University of Rochester study debunking the therapeutic value of gluten-free, casein-free (GFCF) diets for autism and other neurological conditions, these diet charlatans continue to prey on desperate parents.
My annoyance with the misguided efforts to cure autism was replaced with joy upon reading “In praise of misfits,” in the latest issue of The Economist. The article explored the socio-economic impact of people with disorders such as Asperger’s syndrome, autism, ADD and dyslexia.
The author writes,

“Recruiters have noticed that the mental qualities that make a good computer programmer resemble those that might get you diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome: an obsessive interest in narrow subjects; a passion for numbers, patterns and machines; an addiction to repetitive tasks; and a lack of sensitivity to social cues.”

According to the author, it appears that some of the world’s leading entrepreneurs and innovators suffer from Asperger’s, autism, ADD, and dyslexia. Without them, many of the world’s valuable and seemingly indispensable technological innovations may not have happened when they did. One early investor in Silicon Valley tech firms described the people running these firms as “sort of autistic.”

Yishan Wong, an ex-Facebooker, wrote that Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, has “a touch of Asperger’s”, in that “he does not provide much active feedback or confirmation that he is listening to you.”

The Economist article seems to offer evidence of biological mutations in service to humanity’s advancement. The author concludes that “these days no serious organisation (sic) can prosper without them.”
We should stop thinking of people with these disorders as abnormal or sufferers. We need only look to Temple Grandin as an exemplaar. Perhaps, “hyper-normal” is a more apt descriptor. It should follow that those with severe conditions making it hard for them to function require assistance, not a cure.
Understandably parents want their children to be well-adjusted, to fit in, and to be physically and mentally healthy. Parents must accept and cope. Children adapt their gifts to their environment.
We must recognize and accept human genetics for what it is. Our genetic mechanism militates against perfection. Genes for whatever reason continually and subtly mutate.
Are adults and children with Asperger’s, autism, ADD, dyslexia, and other disorders the next step in human evolution? It’s not hard to imagine that early man didn’t understand those few children who began to walk upright or made pictures in the dirt or vocalized.
The human capacity to adapt has led to scientific breakthroughs and new technology. Steve Jobs as well as the founders of Ford, Virgin Group, General Electric, IBM, IKEA and Cisco Systems are dyslexics.
Alexander Graham Bell’s inventiveness sprang from his years as a speech teacher and the desire to help those with hearing loss. Advances in prosthetic science have produced cochlear implants and artificial limbs that enhance the quality of life.
To assist people with autism, we need to listen to them, study genetics, their brain structures, and the role of evolution as influential factors. People with autism and other disorders may teach us something about ourselves and our capacity to adapt.
It may turn out that autistic people will be the ones to take humanity beyond the stars. They may best be suited to survive the loneliness and disorientation of interstellar space travel. Not having regular bowel movements during the year-long trip to Mars may be a good thing. And Meeting a sentient extra-terrestrial life form, however, may produce a bowel movement.
Human genetics remain a marvel of God’s genius.
For more information, check out Neurodiversity.comAustistics.org (The real voice of autism), and Autism Speaks.
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Postscript: Although, my wife insists that I exhibit some Asperger’s traits, I’ve never been examined. I’m told, however, that as a boy, I neither talked a lot nor socialized much nor took to toilet-training readily. My parents were naturally concerned but grew to accept me. Perhaps, defensively, they once responded to a teacher’s observation about my poor social skills by saying that they didn’t send me to school to socialize but to learn.
Psychoanalysts once faulted poor bowel movements for a myriad of psychological and psychosexual issues. The “anal retentive” personality –adults who experienced troubles during potty training has an interest in collecting and keeping things. I just thought I liked baseball cards, comic books and stamps.
I won’t say that these children are suffering because it’s not my place to decide what their quality of life should be or should not be. But who can rightfully say that autistic children or even those with the milder Asperger’s syndrome are suffering? We should love them unconditionally and help to shape an environment that isn’t alien and hostile. Humanity survives because we somehow adapt and conquer our environment.
Should persons with Asperger’s, autism, ADD, dyslexia and other disorders be regarded as suffering?