Old and familiar faces from the Kiwanis Club of Cleveland discussed the prevalence of autism in America with Dr. Tammy Johnson at Wednesday’s first satellite meeting.
Johnson currently serves as the director at the Lee University Developmental Inclusion Classroom. The program is designed to help students who have been labeled as difficult to manage.
These students may either find it more difficult to learn, or have behavioral issues.
“The nice thing about it is the nature of autism means they have no intent, I am convinced, to do anything wrong,” Johnson said. “The way they react is a product of what has happened to them in the past. [It is] what has been reinforced.”
Kiwanis members invited Johnson to remain seated throughout the rest of her presentation. As Johnson relayed information, members chimed in to place a question or share their opinion.
Kiwanian Matt Ryerson asked for Johnson’s opinion on the seemingly recent increase in the number of autistic children.
She listed several possible attributes to include environmental toxins, vaccines, acute assessments and diets.
“Look at all the materials around us that are fire retardant. Your mattress is fire retardant. How much time do you spend on your mattress?” Johnson asked the Kiwanians. “About a third of your life.”
Continued Johnson, “We are exposed to all of those things and there is a lot of debate on the impact of vaccines. I just believe we cannot discount it. If you look at the increase in the number of vaccines that are administered now, in comparison to when we were younger, they [correlate with the increase in autism cases].”
Prospective Kiwanian Joyce Vanderpool agreed with Johnson. She said there are even genetically altered seeds.
“They have treated the seed to grow a plant that is not affected by things like Round Up,” Vanderpool said. “… That is frightening. That really is.”
According to Johnson, there have been cases where children with autistic tendencies have seen positive growth under a new diet.
Sometimes it is as easy as taking gluten out of the diet. However, this is not always the case. Johnson said it is unclear whether or not food allergy-related autistic tendencies would continue to be labeled as autism in the future.
Ryerson told Johnson his friends whose son displayed autistic tendencies were able to alter his behavior with a diet change.
“It sounds like what you are saying, is you could change the diet of another child and see no change,” Ryerson said.
Replied Johnson, “There are children who go on a gluten-free, casein-free diet and the symptoms totally go away, or their situation is significantly improved just through the diet, but it is not for everybody.”
Later Johnson reiterated she is not completely anti-vaccine. Her reservations come from the amount of vaccines children receive. She expressed special alarm for the infant-related vaccines containing peanut products. According to Johnson, experts advise against giving peanuts to infants.
Ryerson asked Johnson to close her presentation with LUDIC-related stories.
She shared how one little girl was taught how to sit still so she could accompany her family to Mass.
Johnson left the gathered Kiwanians with one last insight into the behaviors of someone with autism.
“People on the spectrum have very poor or nonexistent theory of mind skills, and that is what guides all of our social interactions in this whole social-reciprocity thing,” Johnson said. “So the average person we have either wants to interact with you because you do something funny, something entertaining — and the something funny may be you getting upset with them.”