Conference brings parents together

By Rex W. Huppke
Chicago Tribune
Published Sunday, May 27, 2007

Shawn Dennis, the father of two autistic children, came from Ohio to Rosemont this Memorial Day weekend seeking what most parents affected by this enigmatic disorder hunger for: hope.

At a conference called “Roadmap to Recovery,” organized by the national advocacy group Autism One, hope came in a dizzying array of treatments and products, from portable hyperbaric chambers, omega oils and potent
vitamin supplements to acupuncture and infrared saunas aimed at sweating out toxins. There were booths offering sailing therapy, auditory integration training and tips on gluten-free cooking.

This is the world of autism, a mix of hard science and conspiracy theories, sensible therapeutic aides interspersed with what may well be modern-day snake oils. It’s to be expected with a disorder that has neither an
agreed-upon cause nor anything close to a cure.

Autism is a development disorder that inhibits a child’s ability to socialize and can affect verbal and non-verbal communication skills. A study released in February by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that
the rate of new diagnoses of autism in the United States is one out of every 150 children born.

For Dennis and many of the hundreds of parents who attended, the conference was informational and encouraging, a place to meet other parents and share experiences.

“You leave with a sense of hope that a cure may actually be found,” Dennis said. “It’s not an easy process, but there’s nutrition, there are biomedical supplements. There are no guarantees, but there are possibilities.”

Research funding has been on the rise, but autism remains largely a mystery.

“The problem with autism is we don’t know what causes it and it looks different in different kids. It’s a spectrum disorder,” said Chantal Sicile-Kira, communications director for Autism One and author of several books on the
disorder. “So you end up with all these vast options. You may have some treatments that have a lot of research behind them and a lot of treatments that have no research behind them. But maybe that treatment really helped
one kid, so parents are willing to try anything.”

As the mother of an 8-year-old son with autism, Laura Cellini has a lot of information on both biomedical
research and the more holistic methods of treating her child.

She has used a special diet for her son, Jonathan, that includes organic and wheat-free products and has seen
tremendous improvement.

“What’s very frustrating for some people is that many doctors seem to say, ‘You’re born with it. You’ve got to learn to live with it,’ ” said Cellini of Springfield. “You really have to fight and find out what works for your child.”

At the conference, Cellini met the mother of a newly diagnosed 22-month-old child. The woman was in tears.

“I told her, ‘I hope if nothing else you leave here knowing that treatment and help is available,'” Cellini said. “Some doctors may look at it as a hopeless disorder, but treatment is possible.”