McCarthy’s fine with son’s autism
Approach she used met with criticism
BY CARLEY DRYDEN
McCarthy’s fine with son’s autismActress Jenny McCarthy’s best-selling memoir of raising and healing a child with autism has drawn much attention to the developmental disorder — along with a fair amount of debate over the validity of her approach.
McCarthy couldn’t care less about the latter.
“To me, helping thousands and thousands of families far outweighs any kind of negativity,” McCarthy says. “I love knowing that what worked for me worked for thousands of others.”
The actress and author — who already had penned three books on motherhood — became the willing poster girl of autism, going public with her son’s struggle in May. Her fourth book, “Louder Than Words: A Mother’s Journey in Healing Autism” (Dutton, $23.95) detailing her battle with her son Evan’s disorder from diagnosis at age 2 1/2 to recovery, was released in September.
Along with providing helpful resources for parents, the New York Times best-seller portrays every painful detail of McCarthy’s battle to help Evan through the disorder and even describes the crumbling and eventual collapse of her marriage to actor-director John Asher.
The brash, comic TV and film actress did for autism what actor Michael J. Fox did for Parkinson’s disease — catapulting the condition into the center of the media spotlight.
Larry King, Oprah Winfrey and People magazine scrambled to interview McCarthy about her approach to treating autism.
McCarthy treated Evan, now 5, using the Defeat Autism Now (DAN) approach, a project of the Autism Research Institute in San Diego, which combines medical, nutritional and behavioral practices for treating the disorder.
She placed Evan on a strict gluten- and casein-free diet, known to help autistic children with gastrointestinal problems. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye and prepared foods such as bread, cakes, pastas and cereals. Casein is found in dairy products.
McCarthy also took sugar and yeast out of his diet.
Meanwhile, Evan underwent applied behavior analysis, a one-on-one therapy that breaks more complex tasks into simple steps. He also worked with a speech therapist and a DAN doctor.
In discussing “Louder Than Words,” McCarthy has made it clear she is simply a mother telling her personal story, not a doctor promoting a one-size-fits-all cure for autism. But tales of her struggle have resulted in a negative backlash from those who say she is forcing her treatment plan down parents’ throats.
“Standard academics will just bash” the diet “because they don’t know anything about it,” says Dr. Daniel Amen, a nationally recognized psychiatrist and brain imaging expert with a clinic in Newport Beach, Calif.
Christy Crider, director of administration for Autism Behavior Consultants, a Southern California agency that helps parents dealing with autism and behavioral disorders, says some parents are angry with McCarthy because they have tried the diet and it failed, and it hurts them to see her promoting it. Other parents, she says, just haven’t taken time to listen to McCarthy’s story fully.
For Evan, the diet worked; his language skills doubled, and he has been mainstreamed into a traditional school setting.
Autism specialists say the diet has been around for years, but it took the actress’ story to bring its success rate to public attention.