Defeating Autism: A Damaging Delusion

Defeating Autism: A Damaging Delusion

Defeating Autism: A Damaging Delusion

Defeating Autism: A Damaging Delusion


Autism: disease, disorder or difference?

What causes autism - genes or environment?

Can biomedical treatments cure autism, and are they safe?

An increased public awareness of autism has resulted in a rising trend of diagnoses, creating the impression of an 'epidemic'. Many parents of children newly diagnosed with autism have been impressed by plausible theories blaming vaccines and other environmental causes. Many have also been captivated by claims that 'biomedical' treatments - including special diets and supplements, detoxification and medications - can achieve dramatic results.

In Defeating Autism, Michael Fitzpatrick, a family doctor and father of a son with autism, questions the scientific basis of environmental explanations of autism and exposes the incoherence of unorthodox 'biomedical' theories and therapies. This book reveals that these therapies are far from pioneering interventions and they remain unsubstantiated by scientific authorities. Campaigns promising to 'defeat or cure autism now' have attracted much support among parents struggling with their difficult children. But the crusade against autism risks dehumanising and stigmatising those who are identified as autistic and their families. This compelling book is essential reading for students and professionals working in the field of autism, as well as academics concerned with the public understanding of science and the treatment of scientific and medical controversies in the media.


Our son James was diagnosed as autistic in 1994 at the age of two. It seems like a long time ago. In the history of autism, as well as in the life of our family, it is a long time ago. Dustin Hoffman had won an Oscar for his performance in Rain Man a few years earlier (in 1989), but autism had still to become a familiar term. After James’s diagnosis, it was necessary to explain what autism meant to most of our family and friends – the National Autistic Society had produced a useful leaflet for this very purpose. As a doctor in general practice for a decade, I had had a couple of memorable adult patients with autism, but very little experience of autism in children. When I went to our local hospital library to look up autism, I found no books or journals on the subject, only a small section in a massive textbook of child psychiatry. Even London’s biggest specialist medical bookshop carried only a handful of relevant titles. In those days, parents who discovered they had a child with autism found themselves, in a state of distress and disorientation, at the bottom of a very steep learning curve.

At this time James appeared remote and withdrawn, he avoided eye contact, indeed any form of social interaction with us or with his brother Michael, 16 months older. He slept little and ate less. He was given to inexplicable tantrums (especially at night) and episodes of what we came to describe as ‘rocking’, a rhythmical movement in which his whole body appeared to go into muscular spasm. This seemed to occur particularly if he was bored or frustrated, though it was never clear what caused the boredom or frustration. He would walk around on tiptoes, jump up and down flapping his hands and make high-pitched squealing sounds.

After we took James to see our local community paediatrician, he referred us to two different specialist clinics (simultaneously! – this was in the days before the combination of centralised bureaucracy and market forces combined to stifle such independent initiatives within the National Health Service). As we live in inner London, we were fortunate in having ready access to prestigious national institutions. Both clinics were located in well-known centres of excellence, one in the mainstream of child psychiatry with a distinguished record of research in neuroscience and genetics . . .

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