Parents of children on the autism spectrum are wading through a considerable amount of information on the Internet purporting effective treatment and “cures” for autism. A majority of the treatments have been discredited:
“Almost by accident, Laidler says he and Ann, discovered the diet they’d put their son on didn’t work. ‘He was gluten-free and we thought it was a miraculous cure for our son because he’d made pretty dramatic strides from the age of 3 to 4. We were starting to see real progress. But on a trip to Disneyland, he grabbed a waffle off the table and ate it before we could stop him. Doctors had told us that one drop [of gluten] would cause a dramatic relapse—we’d been told anecdotal stories that a speck of wheat bread would cause an autistic child to have weeks of bad behavior. And nothing happened.’
“The Laidlers had also tried chelating their son, and as physicians they had helped other families who wanted to try it. ‘Nobody ever told me it did any good. So to regain my sense of mental balance I started asking a lot of pointed questions: Have you tried chelation? What was the result? Ninety percent of people I asked said they saw no improvement.'”
From the beginning, their physical relationship was governed by the peculiar ways their respective brains processed sensory messages. Like many people with autism, each had uncomfortable sensitivities to types of touch or texture, and they came in different combinations.
Jack recoiled when Kirsten tried to give him a back massage, pushing deeply with her palms.
“Pet me,” he said, showing her, his fingers grazing her skin. But Kirsten, who had always hated the feeling of light touch, shrank from his caress.
“Only deep pressure,” she showed him, hugging herself.
He tried to kiss her, but it was hard for her to enjoy it, so obvious was his aversion. To him, kissing felt like what it was, he told her: mashing your face against someone else’s. Neither did he like the sweaty feeling of hand-holding, a sensation that seemed to dominate all others whenever they tried it.
Children with autism will become adults with autism, some 500,000 of them in this decade alone. What then? Meet Donald Gray Triplett, 77, of Forest, Mississippi. He was the first person ever diagnosed with autism.
In the 1983 film Yentl, Barbra Streisand plays a young Jewish woman in Poland who pretends to be a man in order to receive an education. The film’s premise has made its way into medical lore as “Yentl syndrome,” which describes the phenomenon whereby women are misdiagnosed and poorly treated unless their symptoms or diseases conform to that of men. Sometimes, Yentl syndrome can prove fatal.
If I were to ask you to picture someone in the throes of a heart attack, you most likely would think of a man in his late middle age, possibly overweight, clutching at his heart in agony. That’s certainly what a Google image search offers up. You’re unlikely to think of a woman: heart disease is a male thing. But this stereotype is misleading. A recent analysis of data from 22 million people from North America, Europe, Asia and Australasia found that women from lower socio-economic backgrounds are 25% more likely to suffer a heart attack than men in the same income bracket.
Since 1989, cardiovascular disease has been the leading cause of death in US women and, following a heart attack, women are more likely to die than men. This disparity in deaths has been the case since 1984, and young women appear to be particularly at risk: in 2016 the British Medical Journal reported that young women were almost twice as likely as men to die in hospital. This may be in part because doctors aren’t spotting at-risk women: in 2016, the American Heart Association also raised concerns about a number of risk-prediction models “commonly used” in patients with acute coronary syndrome, because they were developed in patient populations that were at least two-thirds male. The performance of these risk-prediction models in women “is not well established.”
Common preventative methods may also not work as well in women. Acetylsalicylic acid (aspirin) has been found to be effective in preventing a first heart attack in men, but a 2005 paper found that it had a “nonsignificant” effect in women aged between forty-five and sixty-five. Prior to this study, the authors noted, there had been “few similar data in women.” A more recent study from 2011 found that not only was aspirin ineffective for women, it was potentially harmful “in the majority of patients.” Similarly, a 2015 study found that taking a low dose of aspirin every other day “is ineffective or harmful in the majority of women in primary prevention” of cancer or heart disease. Read more…
On May 28, Justice Clarence Thomas issued an eyebrow-raising opinion. It concurred with the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold an Indiana law that requires abortion providers to follow a certain protocol to dispose of fetal remains and prohibits abortions on the sole basis of a fetus’s sex, race, or disability. It wasn’t the justice’s position that caught attention, but rather his method. In speaking to the law’s second provision on selective abortions, Thomas launched into a history of eugenics, the debunked science of racial improvement that gained popularity in the early decades of the 20th century.
Arguing that abortion is “an act rife with the potential for eugenic manipulation,” the justice offered a lengthy discussion of the origins of the birth-control movement in the United States. In this discussion, written for the benefit of other courts considering abortion laws, Thomas explains how Planned Parenthood grew in tandem with state-sterilization campaigns, providing the foundation for the legalized abortion movement. (As historians corrected, legal abortion preceded birth control, as it was not regulated until the 19th century.) The justice cites the disturbing rhetoric of Planned Parenthood’s founder, Margaret Sanger, who wrote in The Pivot of Civilization that birth control was a means of reducing the “ever increasing, unceasingly spawning class of human beings who never should have been born at all.” While conceding that Sanger did not support abortion, Thomas nonetheless argues that “Sanger’s arguments about the eugenic value of birth control in securing ‘the elimination of the unfit’ apply with even greater force to abortion, making it significantly more effective as a tool of eugenics.”
Thomas does not offer concrete evidence that American women actually abort fetuses solely because of sex, race, or disability. Nor does he explore the possible reasons for abortions related to these criteria, such as financial hardship or the lack of societal support for individuals with chronic conditions. His grievance with abortion boils down to this point: the practice is ill-borne. This claim is inaccurate, for reasons that historians swiftly noted; it also obscures the fact that eugenics did in fact initiate many traditions in this country, not all of which are perceived to be heinous today. Thomas’s incautious opinion, which echoes other voices in the abortion debate, unwittingly invites a more nuanced discussion of eugenics’ legacies.
The subject of my pre-doctoral studies was medieval nuns and their relationship to their menstrual cycles. Long story short: my theory was that this relationship was determined by the very real divide between the early Christians who favored either the Old Testament or the New Testament on the inherent “sinfulness” or absence thereof of the human body. The traditional, Old Testament attitude that menstruation made women “unclean” somehow prevailed. Fancy that. Call me crazy, but I had to believe that the way the Church, the Patriarchy, and all of society saw women’s bodily functions had an effect on women’s relationships with their bodies. Stories of menstruating women ruining mirrors they looked into, or causing soufflés to fall, causing farm animals to miscarry, mayonnaise to “not take,” etc., and menstrual blood used as an ingredient in cures for leprosy or magic potions, were common. But even if they were all but forgotten by modern times, they merge easily into my being taught, in the 1980s, to call my period “The Curse.”
I’d noticed, in many hagiographies, that one of the first signs a woman might be a saint, besides experiencing ecstatic “visions,” was that she’d barely, if at all, need to eat or drink anymore, and her various bodily secretions would cease. I wondered if nuns might be using herbs, self-starvation, and/or physical exertion to put an end to their secretions, amongst which, their periods.
Compare this to how, in modern times, many women, including myself, would use The Pill without the classic 7-day pause in dosage to skip an inconveniently timed period. This pause was designed to give women on the Pill a “period” that was more symbolic than functional, almost more of a superstition, and totally unnecessary, medically speaking. Recent years have even seen the introduction of contraceptive pills actually designed to limit a woman to 0-4 periods a year — hormonally inducing amenorrhea, or absence of menstruation. There are times when women want to avoid having their periods, for example, during vacations, sports events (with the notable exception of Kiran Ganhi), honeymoons; in other words, times when we want to be at our best and free of physical impairments or, let’s be frank: free from the anxiety of being discovered menstruating. Some of us opt to be free from that anxiety year-round now. I think medieval nuns would have loved to have that option.