Sally Kirk and son

Sally Kirk is the mother of three boys, one of whom has Asperger’s Syndrome. She is also the author of forthcoming Hope for the Spectrum of Autism, published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

How did you feel when you received your son’s diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome?

I felt a great sense of relief since I had been struggling in vain to understand Will in terms of the ADHD diagnosis he’d received 3 years earlier. Little of what I read about ADHD helped us cope with our most painful problems – Will’s dwindling social skills and increasingly explosive anxiety. The Asperger’s diagnosis was a real turning point for us. For it fit Will like his shadow. Finally I knew what we were really dealing with. Learning about it helped me to understand Will better. Understanding was transforming. For when I saw the world as he saw it, his behaviors made perfect sense. The blessing of understanding was that it led to empathy and compassion. It melted frustration and exasperation into genuine respect, whole-hearted support and even admiration. It helped me to become much more effective at helping him. The impact such understanding made on our relationship was profound. It put us on the same team – working together to face the challenges. It made all the difference in the world.

What are the main challenges you have faced since receiving Will’s diagnosis?

Before Will’s ASD behaviors were alleviated by biomedical intervention, I struggled significantly with Will’s unpredictable, explosive anxiety. Public displays outside the immediate family were particularly stressful. I also grappled with an unrelenting fear that Will would never be able to lead a normal, happy life or to be independent. At times Will’s problems also put a heavy strain on my relationship with my husband. For we often had opposing opinions about how to respond to Will’s woes. Thankfully, as the healing of biomedical intervention has given Will his life back, my husband and I have gotten ours back too.

What are your hopes for the future of autism?

My hope is that mainstream medicine will come to recognize that autism is the result of underlying physical problems in body chemistry, the digestive tract and the immune system. And that when these physical problems are treated, brain function and autistic behaviors can improve. Thus enlightened, mainstream medicine would become a powerful force to help autistic children worldwide so they could enjoy profound healing and significant reductions in autistic behaviors. It is also my hope that research dollars currently funneled so heavily into efforts in genetics will turn instead to crucial research in body chemistry, the digestive tract, and the immune system. We need practical research that will add to our knowledge of safe and effective treatments today, not 20 years from now. Research is also needed to expand our understanding of the root causes that lead to ASDs so we can prevent them in the first place. The Autism Research Institute (www.autism.com) is superb at identifying and funding these types of research.

Who or what inspires you most?

I am most inspired by Jaquelyn McCandless, MD, a doctor of biomedical intervention and author of Children with Starving Brains. On the verge of retiring from private practice in 1996, Dr. McCandless was told her granddaughter, Chelsey, had an incurable disorder, autism. With the unquenchable soul of a mother/grandmother, Dr. McCandless dug deep into ways to help Chelsey. The most rewarding of her finds was biomedical intervention. Though she could have used it to help only Chelsey, she didn’t. Rather, she transformed her practice by diving headlong into helping ASD children heal through biomedical intervention. She also conducted clinical research, wrote articles, spoke at conferences, trained other doctors, and even squeezed in time to pen Children with Starving Brains. She’s a talented overachiever on a mission from the very heart of autism’s pain. And though Dr. McCandless has helped innumerable children to improve or to lose their diagnosis, Chelsey herself – though better – remains autistic. Whereas some might be discouraged, Dr. McCandless continues her relentless, energetic search for answers and improved biomedical treatments. She inspires me as a symbol of unselfish giving, tenacity, resilience and hope.

What is your favorite book or film?

Before Will’s anxiety gradually faded away with biomedical intervention, my most indispensable book was Asperger Syndrome and Difficult Moments: Practical Solutions for Tantrums, Rage, and Meltdowns by Brenda Smith Myles and Jack Southwick. It was my anxiety-meltdown bible for years. But now my favorite book is the intriguing autobiography Up from Slavery by Booker T. Washington. The author was a slave until age 9 when he was freed by Abraham Lincoln. His got a very rough start in life for a person who went on to become a tremendous educator and orator credited with helping his race to recover from oppression. Booker T. Washington wrote that success should not to be measured by the position one reaches in life, but rather by the obstacles one overcomes while trying to succeed. Our children with ASDs have certainly gotten a rough start in life. Their obstacles at times seem insurmountable. Yet I have found that biomedical intervention can help to overcome those obstacles and recover (or improve) many children from the oppression of autism. Many can indeed live rewarding, successful lives if given the right kind of help – biomedical intervention, therapy and special education.

Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2008

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