‘The Un-Prescription for Autism’: Not the Voodoo I Expected

Books Health Parenting Reviews

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A short time ago, I received an offer to review an advance copy of the book The Un-Prescription for Autism. I looked at the line at the top of the cover: “A Natural Approach for a Calmer, Happier, and More Focused Child” (emphasis my own). I did a cursory check of the author, Dr. Janet Lintala. “Doctor,” in this case, meaning “chiropractor.” I managed only a hint of malice when I chuckled, cracked my knuckles, and responded to the offer with a restrained “yes.”

As the father of a son on the Autism spectrum, I keep my eyes and ears open for what is going on in the medical world as it relates to ASD. Since becoming a contributor here at GeekDad, I’ve had an opportunity to voice some of my experiences and take a look at some helpful and informative products that cater to people on the spectrum and those who love and care for them. I’ve also seen my share of pseudo-science and complete disregard of science. Being a parent of a healthy child is hard enough (or so I hear… all three of mine have unique health issues), and being the parent of a child on the spectrum can, at times, be completely overwhelming. I understand when frazzled parents are tempted to rely on voodoo and rubbing homemade tinctures fashioned from mint extract and lawn clippings on their kids because the application of such a balm coincided with a child’s tantrums subsiding once for “this friend of mine.”

It was with visions of anti-vaxxers dancing in my head, peddling their essential oils, incense burning from the ends of acupuncture needles, that I dove into my review copy of The Un-Prescription for Autism. What I anticipated was another person trying to make money by promising frustrated parents that with another book and another home remedy, they can fix their broken child. I was so ready to rip into this book and write a scathing review, telling all of you to stay as far away from this book as possible. Take the money you saved and treat your kid to a frozen yogurt or something; it’d be a better use of your resources.

What I found couldn’t have been further from my expectations.

First off, Dr. Lintala addresses her formal instruction as a chiropractor head-on, so that obstacle was quickly removed. She presents her relevant experience not only as a parent living life on the spectrum but in working with others on the spectrum as the head of Autism Health!, an agency that serves children and adults on the spectrum in 12 states. I grumbled for a minute. This isn’t what I wanted! I wanted to tear down this author and her book. “I’ll bet there’s no science,” I thought. “I’ll bet it’s all anecdotal evidence presented as quasi-scientific.”

As though she knew what I was looking for, Dr. Lintala filled her book with testimonials from parents, pediatricians (“Crap, there are real doctors in here,” I thought), and references to actual scientific articles in peer-reviewed scientific journals (“Double crap!”). In fact, the end notes contained 25 pages of references cited throughout the book. This wasn’t going well at all! My scathing review was dying on the vine.

The approach that Dr. Lintala takes in her book is one that is gaining traction–albeit slowly–in the field of health care. Rather than just focus on treating the symptoms or cutting out the disease, the idea of healing the patient as a whole, as advocated by the prominent names like Dr. David Agus, are gaining traction and shifting paradigms. It’s an approach that makes sense to anyone who thinks about the body as a complex machine. Stress on one area of the machine that is the human body causes stresses elsewhere throughout the body. I like Dr. Agus and his approach, so to see Dr. Lintala approaching ASD with the same mindset was the third strike against my preconceived notion of what this book and subsequent review were going to be.

What Dr. Lintala suggests in her book is that the worst behavioral issues that manifest in the lives of individuals on the spectrum are caused by imbalances and irregularities in the gastrointestinal system. Makes sense, right? How do you feel when your guts are acting up? More than that, how do you act? How do you behave? Are you on your best behavior? Couple that upset feeling with the fact that the guts are the engine that converts what we eat into fuel for the body and are integral in the working of the body’s immune system. Dr. Lintala posits that if one can get the GI system regulated and supported, then the patient will feel better. When the patient feels better, the patient will be more agreeable to behaving better.

Note that Dr. Lintala doesn’t say that GI health will cure Autism. Right now, there is no known cure for Autism. Nor is the method detailed in this book for those with less severe forms of ASD, what might be called “high functioning” or what used to be diagnosed as Asperger’s Syndrome. This is not the book for the parents of the Sheldon Coopers of the world. What Dr. Lintala presents in her book is a detailed and specific regiment that parents of those on the more severe end of the spectrum can follow with their pediatrician’s oversight (very important… while most of what Dr. Lintala lays out is available over the counter or online, one should not enter into this routine without consulting the patient’s doctor first) to help get the patient’s guts operating regularly and correctly. In addition to helping the patient feel better and act more appropriately, Dr. Lintala’s program aims to break the cycle of prescription drug (particularly antibiotics) use and abuse that a lot of people with ASD are subjected to.

Does it work? The science behind Dr. Lintala’s methods is sound. The logic and reasoning pass the sniff test. The testimonials from caregivers and medical professionals suggest that the routine proposed has produced results. People on the spectrum who follow Dr. Lintala’s routine feel better, and when they feel better they are more agreeable to behaving better. That is what the program presented within the pages of this book sets out to do, and it appears that when the routine is followed as laid out, then it accomplishes its stated goal.

But, who am I to make that judgment call that the presented routine is medically sound, much less medically safe? I presented a high-level overview of the routine Dr. Lintala suggests to Pediatric Gastroenterologist Dr. Jody N. Hefner, DO, and asked him to sort of summarize his thoughts about Dr. Lintala’s approach toward treating the bellies of those with ASD. While Dr. Hefner did not have a copy of Dr. Lintala’s book to reference, he was able to share the following (cherry-picked and edited down for space):

The regimen you sent me touches on the current paradigm shift in modern medicine. With the internet and medical resources being readily available, patients now (finally?) have access to mountains of information and misinformation and everything in between. One of the roles of physicians now, in my opinion, in helping navigate this endless pile of information and help sort the wheat from the chaff. Whether it is alternative, complementary, or integrative, non-“traditional” or non-“western” medical practices and approaches have filled a niche that patients and parents have been wanting and like it nor not, is here to stay. Sometimes this need is due to religious or personal beliefs. Sometimes it is due to feeling left out of or not an active part of the conversation of caring for their children. Sometimes it is due to a previous negative experience–theirs or a close friend of family member–or lack of empowerment when making medical decisions. Some may even be “at wits end” or are knowingly reaching for anything that may help or even just give simple hope for improvement. Regardless of how patients and parents get there, the end point from the physician or health care provider is similar. Some may be more confrontational, some more nervous, but the conversation invariably will boil down to, hopefully, “what do you think about (insert treatment or approach here).”

My thoughts on the diet are two-fold. First, I don’t think it would be a harmful diet to follow, and may indeed help some patients “feel better” and therefore act better. So I would be comfortable if the parents of one of my patients (after we did our due diligence and at least screened for other GI issues) wanted to try it. Second, I think there are some parts of the diet that are “overkill”–namely the length of time to transition to gluten-free, casein-free, and the higher than needed dose of vitamin D. The probiotic regimen (without seeing the “anti-microbial” specifics) is fairly routine. In a clinic visit, this is where I would discuss my personal opinion with the parents, and see what their goals of the diet are, and their understanding of it. If they are dead set on the diet, or are willing to perhaps customize it to something we come up with ourselves, we could easily use this as a springboard for more discussion.

In addition to the routine Dr. Lintala lays out, the book is filled with other useful tips for managing life in a house with one or more children on the spectrum. Dr. Lintala’s style is one that embraces parenting with a sense of humor. Dr. Lintala is frank about the challenges parents of children with ASD face, including some of her personal stories and struggles, and at times calls out the absurdity of what amounts to being the ringmaster in a circus that is one’s own home.

It is without reservation that I suggest that anyone involved in the care of someone with more severe ASD pick up a copy of The Un-Prescription for Autism, read it cover to cover, and talk about the program laid out by Dr. Lintala with their pediatrician. In addition to the specific routine and the various tips provided, Dr. Lintala tackles the real-world subject of how to have a frank discussion about your child’s health with a doctor, particularly when your child presents with ASD and you’re at your wit’s end.

The Un-Prescription for Autism is available on Amazon and other outlets where books are sold.

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