I was trying to catch up on some blog reading and checked in with one of my favorites today (I don’t visit as often as I ought). I followed her link to the PETA website, and sure enough there was that abominable billboard, trying to connect dairy with autism. Once again, those who are peddling fear, misinformation and general ignorance are on the make at the expense of those who have children who are autistic. The exploitation of autism for personal or political gain knows no bounds, does it? Whether you’re an aging centerfold model looking for more attention and money or an organization looking to further a political agenda, autism is like an over ripe golden apple just waiting to be exploited and harvested.
A good deal of my outrage on this particular issue is personal. You see, I was raised on a dairy farm. Any kid who was raised on a dairy farm would laugh hysterically at the mere suggestion that dairy cattle are not treated ethically or humanely. These animals have to be among the most humanely and ethically treated creatures in the entire world! They are pampered to excess by their owners! Any proper dairyman (or woman) will tell you that the production of milk is as much of a state of mind as it is proper nutrition for the animal. They need to feel comfortable in order to produce the most milk. That means they have to be happy, non stressed and healthy. A happy contented cow is a major milk producing cow.
This is in contrast to the lives of those who are actually milking and caring for the cows. Happiness, contentment and lack of stress are not prerequisites for being able to milk a cow. My siblings and I hated milking cows. And yet, we were expected to do it. There is no such thing as a 5 day-a-week cow. It was 365 days/year. We couldn’t go on long vacations or travel more than 4hours from home as a family because we had to be back home to take care of the bloody cattle. Those cattle ruled over us! Everything we did was in service to their needs! So this crap about not treating them ethically is total rubbish. Chickens and pigs, yeah I might partially understand that. Perhaps even beef cattle. But not dairy cattle. PETA is off their rocker. But that’s not where the personal side of this story ends. Oh no, there is more.
About 16 years after I milked my last cow, I became a father to a boy on the autistic spectrum. He was all kinds of colicky and never really breast fed due to a stint in the NICU. Since his mother had a mild milk allergy, she figured his crankiness and reflux was due to him having a milk allergy. We never tested him for it, it was just sort of assumed. So he got the lactose-free formula and then when he started drinking “milk” he was drinking soy milk. All this occurred mostly before we even knew he was on the autistic spectrum. And for years, we never really questioned it.
Fast forward to 3 months ago. Jane decided to test Thomas for allergies because he complained about stomach ache and headaches at school. Those symptoms mostly disappeared once school was out, but Jane still went ahead with the tests. By the time the test results came back, Thomas didn’t really exhibit any physical symptoms of whatever was bugging him a couple months earlier. But the results were kind of shocking. The tests did show an extremely mild reaction to milk. However there was one thing that he was so allergic to, that it was absolutely and literally off the chart. Yep, that would be SOY! So, we are on a soy-free diet and he does drink regular milk but not without protesting sometimes.
And he is still autistic. He was before any of the diets and he’s remained so after whatever diet/fad we’ve tried. He’s on the somewhat mild side of the spectrum (or at least that’s what I’m hopeful of) but he is still himself. He does not need to be cured as much as he needs to be self-assured that he is okay. He needs to know that he is safe, that he can eat things without worrying whether or not whatever he eats is going to poison him. Paranoia is an extremely contagious condition, and unfortunately I know of no vaccine against it other than a good healthy dose of skepticism. Even that isn’t going to make you immune to fear, guilt, shame, worry, insecurity and other assorted neurotic psychopathologies that organizations like PETA are trying to introduce. Let’s face it; you don’t advertise without the hope that your message goes viral. PETA was trying to introduce a pathogenic virus into the consciousness of those who saw their billboard in order to infect the population with fear, shame and guilt by using autism as a primary vector. This is more dangerous and costly than West Nile or Bird Flu because it preys on the fear mongering already sown by other infectious agents who want to depict autism as a horrible death sentence. Fortunately it was taken down but probabl not without already infecting a large segment of the New Jersey population.
I do wish the CDC would do something about the contagion that seems to grip and handicap any meaningful discussion of autism and those who have it.