This blog is a way of sharing the information and resources that have helped me to recover my son Roo from an Autism Spectrum Disorder. What I have learned is to view our symptoms as the results of underlying biological cause, which can be identified and healed. I say "our symptoms" because I also have a neuro-immune disorder called Myalgic Encephalomyelitis.

And, of course, I am not a doctor (although I have been known to impersonate one while doing imaginative play with my son)- this is just our story and information that has been helpful or interesting to us. I hope it is helpful and interesting to you!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Treating Illness or Over-riding Healing?

I recently watched a video by Dr Chestnut, a chiropractor, that covers the concurrent rise in medical treatment and costs with the decline of overall health in the US and other developed nations.  In the US, prescription drug use he says is up 55 times since the 1960s while the population continues to become more and more sick rather than more and more well.  He says he has to ask the question whether drugs and surgery are the answer, but we just haven't found the right ones yet, or is the paradigm from which they come flawed?  His conclusion is that drugs are generally used to override the body's attempts to heal itself and restore balance, and that this comes from a paradigm of thinking that illness stems from genetic errors and represents a failure of the body that needs to be "corrected" from the outside via drugs or surgery.  The subtitle of this video is "Drugs override the body's innate ability to self-heal and self-regulate."

This dovetails perfectly with what I heard in an interview with Dr Thomas Cowan M.D., author of The Fourfold Path To Healing, about healing and medicine.  Dr Cowan is an MD who has studied a number of alternative forms of medicine including homeopathy, anthroposophic medicine, and herbal medicine.  So many things were covered in the hour-long interview that were paradigm-shifting for me including a whole new way to look at both heart-disease and cancer.  Many of the resources and practitioners  that I come across have pieces of the puzzle to add- a new perspective on a symptom or illness, a new way of looking at something, a connection that others have failed to see.  Dr Cowan has done all of those things but more than anything he can see the "big picture" of health, wellness, and healing, and can convey succinctly his paradigm-altering insights. To listen to the interview click here.

He will be the inspiration for many blog posts, but for now I will focus on one of those "big picture" questions that he posed- "are we treating the disease or the therapy?".  What he means is that many of the symptoms that we see are reactions by the body to an insult or injury and are an attempt by the body to compensate or heal these underlying problems. To illustrate his point about which is the disease and which is the therapy, he used the simple example of a splinter.  If you get a splinter in your finger and don't remove it, your body will produce pus around it.  The splinter is the disease and the pus is the body's "therapy" or attempt to correct the problem.  Removing the splinter is treating the disease, draining the pus is treating the therapy instead.     The body's therapy or compensation strategies are what we call symptoms, and while not the disease itself, tend to be mistaken by allopathic doctors as the disease process and thus the target of allopathic treatments (drugs or surgery).  Other examples would be giving fever-reducing medication rather than supporting the body in fighting off an infection, giving laxatives for constipation rather than addressing the disordered digestive process, and using medications to lower cholesterol rather than figuring out why cholesterol is either being over-produced or under-utilized. 

This is the same principle that we in the autism world are referring to when we talk about the difference between treating the underlying cause versus managing symptoms.  Don't get me wrong, there is a lot to be said for managing symptom either when the cause has not been found or treating the cause is a lengthy process, but it is not the same thing.  Occupational Therapy can help a person work with and work around sensory symptoms that result from physiological illness but won't correct the underlying illness process.  This is analogous to a Physical Therapist helping someone to overcome physical limitations from a physical illness or injury.  If someone were to step on a tack, a physical therapist could help them learn to walk differently or to find other ways of moving around to avoid pain.  A medical doctor could prescribe pain medication to ease their discomfort.  But wouldn't the prudent treatment be to remove the tack itself?  This is like giving anti-psychotic medication, sleep medication, laxatives, or alerting medication such as Ritalin to children with autism.  Why not endeavor to remove the tack itself?

Additionally, addressing the symptoms rather than the cause allows the disease process to continue unchecked and will lead to more and more symptoms as the body continues to try to bring itself back into balance.  The first time I remember coming across this concept was in an article in Mothering Magazine when Roo was a baby.  The article was an introduction to anthroposophic medicine and was the first time I'd heard of it.  I'm sure there were many fascinating things in that article had I been in a place to hear them, but the one thing that really stuck with me was that the minor illnesses of childhood such as fevers were attempts by the body to restore balance.  Whether they said this or not I don't remember, but I understood that they arose from homeostatic mechanisms.  I have come to realize that the ability of the body to take steps, such as spike a fever to restore itself to balance, is what health is.  For years Roo would get sick but never had a fever.  I realized that this was not a sign of health but rather a sign of diminished health.  He began having fevers again while he was under the care of a homeopathic doctor who was overjoyed to hear of this.  Once he began to have fevers we realized that during a fever he would be talkative and lucid, and that he would have major leaps forward developmentally after a fever.  This experience drove home to me the truth of my theory that the robustness of homeostatic mechanisms is a measure of health in a person.  I have come to see our healing of Roo as being about removing the barriers that keep his body from restoring itself to health rather than "causing" health from the outside.