Today has been World Autism Awareness Day, and Kim Stagliano despises it. The mother of three autistic daughters, she finds the "feel-good frippery" and air of festivity around the globe -- with the rallies, events, balloons, and everything in blue (even the Eiffel Tower) -- suggests a party rather than a crisis.
Good intentions aren't in question: Autism Speaks talks about World Autism Awareness Day as an event that "celebrates the unique talents and skills of persons with autism." Yet Stagliano bristles at the jovial tone of April (Autism Awareness Month), and the suggestion that "the circumstances of my daughters' existences are to be celebrated. For me, this should be a month of solemn acknowledgement and education about a global crisis."
Stagliano points out the sharp rise in autism over the past decade, and notes MIT scientist Stephanie Seneff's prediction that by 2025, half of all children will be born with autism.
I offer my thoughts here with the deepest compassion for Kim's daily trials with the realities of autism, and in the spirit of her call for education about a global crisis. It's doubtful we will find a single "magic bullet" reason for autism, but rather a complex causal tapestry of many threads in different combinations.
Dr. Seneff's dire prediction is related to the herbicide glyphosate (RoundUp), whose prevalence in the U.S. environment has risen in step with the rise of autism rates. Then there is the puzzling, polarizing question of the role of vaccines (and the chemicals used to preserve and deliver them). Environmental toxins of many kinds will surely be found to contribute to the neural circuitry disruptions underlying autism.
Here is what I (and many others) believe will also be found as a warp thread in the causal tapestry of autism.
Oxytocin, Love and Autism
In his primal health research, birth reform pioneer and physician Michel Odent has adopted a revealing new lens by looking at a central feature of autism -- which he terms "an impaired capacity to love." When he used this novel perspective from which to survey a wide range of supposedly disparate research -- on juvenile violent criminality, teen suicide, and autism -- he found something striking: "[W]hen researchers explored the background of people who have expressed some sort of impaired capacity to love -- either love of oneself or love of others-they always detected risk factors in the period surrounding birth."
Odent points out a bleak reality: women are losing the capacity to give birth. He makes the compelling case that this is happening thanks to the systematic (yet unconscious) disuse -- and thus, atrophy -- of our human oxytocin system over the past few decades.
When we administer synthetic oxytocin (e.g. Pitocin) for any reason -- but most commonly to a laboring woman, to "just get things going" -- it alters the intricate rhythms and balance of her body's internal oxytocin system. This in turn alters the baby's nascent oxytocin system. Oxytocin is central to our "capacity to love."
When human connection takes a back seat to solitary pursuits and digital distraction as it does more and more in our era, the oxytocin system of an entire culture wilts and ebbs.
Odent draws stunning parallels between the decline in physiologically normal births, the increase in autism and (forgive the pun) the rise in male erectile dysfunction. Those all rely on the same system: without oxytocin there is no physiologically normal birth, no human empathy, and no intercourse!
I spotlighted a few of Odent's perspectives in my report on the research finding a connection between induced labor and autism risk. I also quoted him in a chapter I co-authored for a textbook women's reproductive mental health. In our chapter "Pre- and Perinatal Influences on Female Mental Health," Dr. Odent's prescient insights emerge as key points. Here's one example of how Odent traces the similar rise of depression rates and the use of synthetic oxytocin in birth (and sorry -- please excuse the textbook-y language!):
An Audience with Michel OdentGiven the gender gap of depression and the fact that twice as many women as men suffer from major clinical depression -- one woman in eight experiences at least episode in her lifetime -- it is relevant to include Odent's observation that the rate of college students reporting they've been diagnosed with depression has risen from 10% to 21% in just eleven years! Acknowledging the complex causal tapestry involved in depression, he urges us to consider that in that same decade, 2000-2011, "it was a time when the number of women who were able to give birth to their baby and to the placenta thanks only to the release of their natural hormones dramatically decreased." He reminds us that depression is related to how stress-axis "set points" are established in the pre- and perinatal period, pointing out the myriad brain areas showing altered activity in depressed subjects that have an important phase of development and "set point" adjustment during the period surrounding birth.
I was privileged to have the opportunity to be one of a small number of people at a session of Michel Odent's Mid-Pacific Conference on Birth & Primal Health Research. Thanks to his important book Birth and the Future of **** Sapiens... and the fact that his London book launch event was videoed... you have the opportunity to listen firsthand to this visionary thinker talk about these oh-so-important topics! Provided you can understand him (the author of this excellent UK Telegraph article writes that Odent's French accent is "as thick as a ripe Brie"), it is a master class in visionary thinking about the future of humanity.
What Does It Mean for Autism In MY Life??
Whenever discussing possible contributing factors to any challenging condition, especially regarding children, I want to be VERY clear: this is not about blame, this is not about guilt, this is not about tallying up everything you or I or cousin Betsy might have done differently, or "better." This is about compassionately and tenderly looking at the big picture of our shared human family, how we may have gotten ourselves into some painful places, and how we might begin to make some healthier choices going forward.
Also, Dr. Odent cautions us (with respect to our tendency to anguish over studies like the one linking labor induction to autism risk) that when reading about such studies... or listening him talk about any of the conditions he is researching through a primal health lens...you cannot be thinking of your own family, your friends, or your neighbor's cousin's autistic son. These are population-based (epidemiological) studies that reach conclusions in terms of tendencies, risk factors and statistically significant differences amongst huge numbers of people. It is not appropriate or valid (although it is always tempting) to apply these autism risk findings to specific individual cases!
Contrary to one of the many vitriolic comments to the above-linked Telegraph article, this is the reason he says his new book is NOT meant to be read by pregnant mothers: it's too big a picture, and too bleak, for a pregnant mother to be focusing on as she's communing so intimately with her new little one. Indeed, Michel Odent is the first one to promote chronic JOY in the lives of pregnant women.
The rest of us, though, best get our heads out of the sand and look at the big... the really big... unified picture of birth -- and autism -- and erections -- and the future of us all. Knowledge is power, or at least it can be, if we take heart and take action.
We owe it to all the Kims of the world, and their sons and daughters.
***** I will be on a panel with Dr. Odent exploring the question, "What kind
of humans are we growing?" -- at the upcoming BirthKeeper Summit *****
theogeo through a Creative Commons license