All posts by The Attached Family

Spirit or Form…Does It Matter Which Comes First?

By Shoshana Hayman, director of the Life Center/Israel Center for Attachment Parenting,

Shoshana Hayman“Say you’re sorry to your brother.”

“Say thank-you to Grandma.”

“Do your math homework now.”

“It’s time to practice the piano.”

Before we try to get a child to behave in a certain way or learn something, we have to ask ourselves if the child himself cares enough to want to fulfill our request or expectation:

  • Does the child actually feel sorry?
  • Does he truly feel thankful?
  • Is he curious and interested?
  • Does he have inner desire?

We can make (sometimes) a child say “sorry” or “thank you” or practice the piano or do his homework. But when we force a child, we are not really instilling within him something that is lasting. We are putting form before spirit. Before a child can learn form, he must have the spirit for this behavior to be true and long-lasting.

Origin of Spirit

Where does spirit come from? What makes a child truly care? There are three ingredients of mature caring:

  1. Right relationships — The child must be securely attached to his parent, in the dependent position. He must feel unconditional love and caring from his parent in order to be fully satiated in his need to be cared for, to matter to someone, to feel important in the eyes of someone. Only then can he feel caring toward others. You can compare this to food. If you were hungry and didn’t know where your next meal was coming from, you would not be inclined to invite others to your table. When a child’s need for unconditional caring is met, he can care for others.
  2. Emergent energy — This comes from the child himself and moves him to learn about what he likes, what interests him, what is important to him, what has meaning and value to him. He can venture forth into the world to discover what he cares about, only if his attachment base is secure and strong.
  3. Integrative thinking, the fruit of a nurtured spirit of caring — The ability to integrate conflicting feelings and thoughts does not even begin to develop until the child reaches five years old. This unfolding process is the root of true caring. True caring means that you remember you care when you are angry, frustrated, tired, or scared. Caring mixes together with other conflicting feelings and results in a tempered response in the child. Caring becomes part of a child’s nature when he can be angry at his brother but remember that he loves his brother and doesn’t want to hurt him. A child is truly a caring person when he doesn’t like the gift he received from his grandmother but will accept it graciously with a thank-you, because he doesn’t want to hurt his grandmother’s feelings; when he is frustrated by having too much math homework, but he does it anyway because he cares about passing the test.

When we put form before spirit, we can crush the spirit. Some of the ways we try to make children act in a caring way, such as rewarding them with prizes, actually create egocentricity in children because they are focused on acceptable behavior rather than on cultivating the desire to give. Ultimately this can create an “I don’t care! It doesn’t matter to me!” attitude.

Children are born with the potential to care deeply. It is up to us, the adults in their lives, to nurture this spirit before we try to add form.

The Grandparent Challenge

By Sonya Fehér, contributing editor for the API Speaks blog, leader for API of South Austin, Texas, USA, and blogger at

Sonya FeherHow many of us arrived at Attachment Parenting because we wanted to parent differently than we were parented? I have had the (mis)fortune recently of witnessing exactly how I was parented. First my mom came to visit, then my dad. It’s hard to get the distance to observe our relationship objectively, but watching each of them with my son was illuminating.

Unclear Boundaries

First was my mother’s inability to say no. While I am certainly not interested in the “no” that frequently is an automatic reaction in parenting, what gentle discipline means to me is that it is my responsibility to help my son by setting appropriate limits. Parental guidance means he doesn’t have to figure out what is okay or safe on his own. Continue reading The Grandparent Challenge

Infant Massage, Demystified: Interview with massage therapist Robin Gillies

By Robin Gillies, LMT, 

Infant massageThe secret of infant massage, in my opinion and experience, is this: Mothers and fathers — especially those who practice Attachment Parenting and therefore really in touch with their children — will know instinctively how to touch their babies.

Here is what I think you need to know: Most babies prefer to be touched with lubrication. Their skin is so sensitive that dry touch can feel tickle-like.

Always use a pure, food-grade oil that is free of preservatives and fragrances — ideally, organic. Babies put their body parts in their mouths, so they are likely to ingest whatever you’re using. Also, the skin is the largest organ of the body and it absorbs everything that is put on it. So if you wouldn’t spoon-feed it, don’t apply it to the skin. In the same vein, never use any products that contain parabens or any petroleum derivatives. Mineral oils are linked to lung problems and skin disorders. And, obviously, they are non-renewable resources. Other than being incredibly cheap for cosmetic companies, they have no value.

Interview by Art Yuen, leader for API of New York City USA & member of the API Board of Directors

ART: Where did you receive your training in infant massage?

ROBIN: I was trained and certified through The Loving Touch Foundation. Interestingly, it was in these classes that I learned all about Attachment Parenting for the first time.

ART: You mention that effective massage isn’t about the strokes. Can you expand on this?

ROBIN: All groups that train and certify teachers have some protocol of strokes that they teach. And this isn’t a bad thing. It gives parents and teachers a way to organize their approach. All of us like to have direction when we’re feeling at a loss as to “where to start.”

But if parents feel like they’re not “qualified” to be massaging their own babies simply because they don’t know the “strokes,” I feel it’s my job to quickly demystify the whole thing.

Also, a checklist of strokes is often a challenge for perfectionist types or anyone who finds it difficult to leave a task undone, like me. I’ve seen parents insist on finishing a stroke ten times on one leg because it is on their handout, even though their baby is writhing and pulling away. They just can’t stand to leave the stroke undone.

So, now when I teach, I try to teach parents a variety of approaches while highlighting the ones that seem to work. I’ll say, “Wow, look at that: She’s really smiling when you do that. Keep that in mind and see if it’s as big a hit next time.” This seems to help parents remember a relevant stroke, and I hope it helps to reinforce responsiveness.

What I tell parents: Don’t worry about the strokes — just touch your baby a lot and often — so long as baby seems to like it.

Infant Massage 

Infants move through a cycle of “alert” states:

  1. Drowsy
  2. Quiet Alert
  3. Active Alert
  4. Crying

We want to massage our infants in the quiet alert state. I find it interesting that so many books and teachers encourage after-bathtime massages — which usually precedes sleep time — when babies are restless, irritable, and tired. Bath time is great because our babies are conveniently naked. But if they are not in the quiet alert state, it is not a good time for massage.

How do we know if they are in the quiet alert state? Their bodies are relatively still. They are not crying. And they make or keep eye contact with you. Usually after waking and a feeding, babies will be content to be massaged.

How to do it:

  1. Find a place that is comfortable for you and baby. On the floor is a great place, if you are comfortable. Have a small pillow or rolled-up blanket to place under Baby’s head to assist him or her in easy eye contact. The comfort of the massage “giver” is fundamental. So find a position that you enjoy that keeps you both stable, relaxed, and in eye contact with one another.
  2. Baby should be in just a diaper, or naked on some sort of wee-wee pad or water-resistant surface.
  3. Make sure the room is very warm, and select soft  music that your baby seems to relax to. Ideally, use the same music every time, as the baby will begin to associate it with relaxation time.
  4. Use a little bit of oil on your hands, rubbing them together to warm both your flesh and the oil before touching the baby. Feet or toes and legs are a good, non-invasive but nerve-rich places to start. Play with pace, rhythm, direction of your touch and just observe your baby’s responses. Giggles, smiles, and coos? Or a grimace and a withdrawn limb? This is the art of infant massage. The silent body language communication. If your baby expresses dislike, try more or less pressure, or a broader surface — using your palms versus finger tips is usually a good rule of thumb with babies. If that doesn’t work, move on to another body part.
  5. Approach the tummy gently. Downward and clockwise strokes can assist movement of gas and digestion. Then maybe the chest, and arms, hands, or fingers. Face massage is taught, but very few babies like it. Try it with yours: forehead, cheeks, chin, ears, and scalp. But watch closely for cues of irritation.
  6. As you touch your baby, notice your breath and your thoughts. We convey so much through our hands. So breathe, be present, and talk to your baby using language that they can associate with this sort of touch. Use words like “breathe,” “relax,” and “melt.” If this feels inauthentic to you, maybe sing a lullaby or hum along with the background music. Be especially mindful of your state of mind when your hands are in your baby’s heart and energy center — the chest and tummy. We are all extra, extra perceptive and vulnerable here.
  7. You can be playful, too! Make up fun sounds with the strokes. Look for sounds that make your baby laugh or smile. Feel free to creatively name the strokes, like “airplane taking off” and make an airplane noise. Your infant will become a toddler soon enough, and this will be a fun familiar massage experience for him or her.
  8. You may flip the baby over on to his or her tummy for back massage. I always take off the diaper for this because, while necessary, diapers energetically “cut off” the torso from the lower body and  long connective strokes with the whole palm of the hand from nape of the neck down to the toes can be very, very helpful. I have found that because most babies have a limited tolerance for massage and for tummy time, it is often better to do the work on the back in an entirely different session. Let it stand alone. And let it be brief. Sometimes a mirror or satisfying rattle or soft toy in baby’s hand while on their belly can keep them peaceful for a few more minutes.

How long should massage last? Ask your baby! It will vary every time. And while massage is relaxing, it is also stimulating for babies. So watch for cues that the quiet alert phase has passed. Averting eyes, squirming, and crying out are all signs.

Frequency is going to be more important than length. So don’t worry if it’s only two or three minutes. Don’t get hung up on thoughts like, “I haven’t gotten to the chest yet!” Just remember where you left off and start somewhere else next time.

Always end your session with lovies and huggies and snugglies and, “I love you’s.”

Never give massage if you’re not in the mood. I cannot say it enough: Everything comes through your hands. If you are anxious, impatient, tired, worried, or not present, your baby will begin to learn these emotions to be associated with the experience of massage.

Massage as a Part of the Sleep Routine

Therapeutic and loving touch can be incorported in to bedtime routines even if the child is not in a quiet alert state, but the approach will differ. Best to have the baby clothed and try long-holding techniques.

Some babies really get grounding from holding of the feet. If they kick and pull away, let it go. Another move all humans love is to have one hand under the small of the back and one hand resting gently on the tummy. This embrace of the solar plexus can be so comforting and quieting. Experiment with a hand just under the small of the back, just on the tummy, and then both at the same time. See how baby responds. Also, holding the baby’s head in your palms with your finger tips gently resting at the place where the skull meets the neck may work.

Holds should be patient and long and still — as long as you observe a gradual quieting of the baby as opposed to agitation or irritability. This is a great time to close your eyes and enjoy your loving thoughts about baby. Think about all the adorable positive moments you had all day. Picture your baby’s beautiful face, smile, and body; remember how it feels to hold them in your arms. Let the energy of these thoughts wash over you. You will — without having to try — be transmitting this to the baby. If you are in to visualizations, try inhaling a bright white light in to the crown of your head and exhaling it out of the palms of your hands in to your baby’s body. If negative thoughts come to you, such as regret or guilt over those moments of the day when you lost your patience or let yourself down, use this time to give some self-love talk: “I love myself when I’m less than the parent I want to be” or “I love myself when I am impatient.”

Your baby will tell you how long the holds should last. Some babies will drift off to sleep. Others will quiet but then crave the rest of their bedtime routine: rocking, nursing, singing, or whatever it may be. Follow their cues.

Massage for Toddlers & Older Children

My son is now 26 months old, and I have not been able to massage him regularly since he was about 16 months old. I miss it, but I’m not worried about it. He must come to it himself now. I was taught that if you massage your baby consistently as an infant, he’d simply grow to be a toddler who craved it. But this seems to conflict with all of my experience, both with Jackson and with my friends’ and clients’ children. All of us who are in or who have been in toddler land, know that having them sit still long enough for a diaper change is challenge enough. So I will offer some ideas for introducing massage to the toddler or older child, but the most important guideline here is, as ever: Let them lead.

After almost a year of disinterest, Jackson has suddenly become interested in massage after seeing me give a massage to my sister. He was fascinated. She was on the floor, and I was doing some combination of Thai, Shiatsu, and Deep Tissue with Oil and he just jumped right in. He was palming her back, rubbing her feet, tickling her, and playing with her hair. Ultimately, I just backed away and watched him respond to her experience of his touch. He saw immediately that she liked having her head rubbed, so he did it for a long time.

The next day, we were on the subway and he licked his finger and then wiped it on my arm. Again and again and again. I asked him what he was doing and he said, “Giving Mommy massage.”

So, my idea about toddlers and older children is rooted in this limited, but I sense also universal, experience: Let your children see you massage someone else that they know, love, and trust.

Again, you don’t have to be a professional massage therapist. Just get some good oil, sit across from a friend, partner, or family member on kitchen chairs with one of their feet resting on your thigh, and give a little foot or calf rub in front of your child. Or while watching your child play, lay another person down on the floor right in the middle of the child’s play space and start to squeeze shoulders — even through the clothes is fine. If  you’re not sure what to do with your hands, just think: how would your tired back, neck, arms, or head like to be touched?

Oil in a colorful container can get a child’s attention. Encourage your massage recipient to give directions or to express pleasure in a way that is natural and authentic for them: “That feels so good,” “a little lower,” “not so deep,” or simply, “mmmmmmm…..”

An instructional video:

Books: A Vital Touch by Sharon Heller & Touch by Tiffany Field

We live in a touch-deprived society wherein most of our kids learn touch in either a violent or sexual context. Introducing massage gives babies, toddlers, and children a healthy experience of touch. Offer massage in your household. Make therapeutic touch a part of your everyday life and I believe that in his or her own time, the toddler or older child will be attracted to its power. Never force it. Always stop when they say stop. It should be an empowering experience. When they know how it feels to be touched in a way that feels good, they will know what it means to not like certain touch. They will develop body awareness, boundary awareness, and respect for both their own and other’s bodies.  Enjoy being a part of this priceless lesson in life!

Editor’s Note: Read an in-depth interview on infant massage with Linda Storm and Suzanne Reese of Infant Massage USA in the New Baby 2010 issue of the quarterly The Attached Family magazine, due out to readers in June.

Managing Your Time Online

By Judy Arnall, author of Discipline without Distress,

Judy ArnallOne of my worst parenting days was when I was still sitting at my computer in pajamas and my husband walked through the front door. I thought that he had forgotten his laptop again and returned to get it so that he could go back to work and get started on his day. When he didn’t seem to want to leave again, I realized that it was suppertime and that I had succumbed to spending the whole day in the black hole of the internet and social media.

Where had the time gone? My kids had spent the day at home watching movies and eating sugar cereal for breakfast, snack, lunch, and snack. I realized then that I needed to manage my online time better and not have it manage me so that I was missing out on the life I wanted.

The internet and social media can be a huge distraction for women who work and parent at home. Here are some tips to manage your online life: Continue reading Managing Your Time Online

The Danger of Pharmaceuticals

By Adrienne Carmack, MD

Danger of PharmaceuticalsIn April 2005, Rani Jamieson gave birth to a healthy baby boy, Tariq. She was given Tylenol #3, a medication containing acetaminophen and codeine, for postpartum pain. She took two pills twice a day, less than the prescribed amount, and cut this dose in half two days later after experiencing fatigue and constipation. She was told it was safe to take this medication while breastfeeding, and did so.

When he was seven days old, Tariq became excessively sleepy and had trouble breastfeeding. His mom began pumping and froze her extra breastmilk while continuing to nurse. She brought Tariq in to see his pediatrician when he was 11 days old for poor feeding; the pediatrician noted he had regained his birth weight and nothing further was done. On his 13th day of life, Tariq became unresponsive. When the ambulance crew arrived, he was already dead. Six months later, an autopsy showed a deadly overdose of the codeine his mother had been taking.

Codeine is generally regarded as a safe medication for use by breastfeeding moms immediately postpartum. In 2001, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a report stating that codeine had not been reported as causing signs or symptoms of problems in breastfed infants and that it had no effect on lactation. It was included in a list of medications “usually compatible with breastfeeding.” Actually, several reports of apnea in infants whose mothers were taking codeine had been previously reported, in 1993 and 1984, according to a study published in the January 2007 issue of Canadian Family Physician.

Even today, the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine, a breastfeeding advocacy organization, reports that codeine is generally a suitable choice for postpartum pain. In their report on pain control in breastfeeding mothers, they advise limiting doses of pain medications to the minimum amount necessary and suggest that nonpharmacologic means of pain control such as hypnotherapy may be better. However, they ultimately conclude that codeine is generally safe because it has been widely used by millions of women worldwide.

How can a medication that has been safely used in millions also be dangerous enough to kill a newborn baby, even when used at lower doses than the standards recommended? Scientists have recently begun studying the role of genetic variations in drug reactions. They have found that individuals with certain forms of genes are more likely to metabolize drugs in ways that lead to higher side effects. For example, the chemotherapy drug cisplatin causes hearing loss in some of the people who receive it, particularly children. However, until recently, no one knew why this was. It’s now been shown that certain forms of genes are responsible for this side effect, as published in the September 2007 issue of American Journal of Human Genetics.

For codeine, the answer lies in a gene called CYP2D6. Those with a certain form of this gene metabolize codeine very rapidly. Codeine works as a pain medication after it is metabolized to morphine, which then acts on pain receptors in the body. Those who metabolize codeine very rapidly end up with very high levels of morphine in their bodies very quickly. In the case of Tariq, his mother had symptoms early on, suggesting that she was a “fast-metabolizer” of codeine. Tariq was found to have morphine levels of 90 ng/mL, much higher than the level usually seen in infants receiving intravenous morphine, about 12 ng/mL. Rani’s frozen breastmilk contained 87 ng/mL of morphine.

Why, before codeine was deemed safe for the infants of nursing mothers, weren’t morphine levels in breastmilk studied? They were. A study published in The Journal of Human Lactation in 1993 measured the levels of morphine in the blood and milk of seven mothers taking codeine and in the blood of their infants. The levels of morphine in the infant’s blood never exceeded 2.2 ng/mL, which is generally considered a safe level, and is much lower than the levels found in Tariq’s blood.

Claims of medication safety are usually made after drugs have been tested in uniform populations at standard dosages, not in diverse populations that represent our society. In the case of CYP2D6 gene variations, the fast-metabolizer form occurs in up to 29 of every 100 people, depending on ethnicity, as published in the Canadian Family Physician study. It’s easy to see how measuring the levels of morphine in the milk of seven mothers of an ethnicity with a 1% rate of genes causing fast metabolism of morphine would be unlikely to include a mother with this variation. Had the study been done in mothers of Ethiopian descent, who have the highest chance of having this form of the gene, the researchers likely would have seen very high levels of morphine in the milk of at least one of the mothers.

Given these facts, it is likely that millions of infants worldwide go through their first days of life sedated and drowsy, while their mothers are reassured that the medication they are taking is harmless. Many new moms, unfamiliar with an infant’s behavior, may not recognize that their babies’ behavior is unusual. If they do worry and seek medical care, many doctors would fail to recognize the symptoms as a drug effect. One can only surmise the effects of this early drug exposure on brain development.

Genetic mutations such as this also account for other side effects of medications. For example, the CYP2D6 gene is also important in how the body handles another pain medication, tramadol. Those with the gene variation causing rapid metabolism are much more likely to experience nausea than those who do not. Half of rapid metabolizers develop nausea, compared to only 9% of those who are able to metabolize tramadol completely, according to a study published in the February 2008 issue of Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology. Similarly, individuals with this form of the gene who take codeine have a 91% chance of becoming excessively sleepy with the medication, compared to 50% of those without it. Those who metabolize codeine very rapidly have 50% higher levels of morphine in their systems.

This new understanding of the role genes play in the way our bodies process drugs illustrates the reasons why pharmaceuticals that seem safe can still be very dangerous. Since this report was published, some strategies that have been recommended are using medications such as ibuprofen instead of codeine in breastfeeding mothers, using codeine for a shorter time after the baby is born, or even performing genetic studies in all mothers to determine if it is safe for them to use codeine while breastfeeding. These strategies are flawed. Simply reducing or changing the pain medication used is not likely to be effective in controlling a mother’s pain. Carrying out mass genetic screening would be extremely costly and time-consuming.

Not only are these strategies impractical, they fail to address the real issue. Pharmaceuticals are dangerous. Reports indicate that adverse drug events occur in 67 of every 1,000 hospitalized patients and are fatal in 3.2 of every 1,000 patients, according to a study published in the April 1998 issue of Journal of the American Medical Association. Worse, 95 of every 1,000 hospitalized children experiences an adverse drug event. Of every 1,000 children admitted to the hospital, 20.9 are admitted because of drug reactions. Almost half of these are life-threatening reactions. It’s estimated that 14.6 of every 1,000 children who are not hospitalized will experience an adverse drug reaction, as published in the July 2001 issue of British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology. According to the United States Food and Drug Administration, if these rates are accurate, adverse drug reactions are the fourth-leading cause of death in the United States. Even when drugs are thought to be safe for many years, using them can still have devastating consequences.

The best strategy, one that isn’t commonly proposed, is simply avoiding medications in the first place. Medications are widely overused. In the case of postpartum pain, choosing a natural childbirth, with alternate methods of pain control if needed, provides the safest environment for the baby. This option avoids the risks of codeine in particular and also lets women avoid all of the drug effects that are not yet understood and can’t be predicted. If a mother does feel that taking a medication is important for her health or that of her child, she should diligently watch for any side effects. Mothers are wise to listen to their bodies and to not hesitate to seek alternate treatments if concerning symptoms occur while taking a drug.

Some mothers who chose to avoid drugs while pregnant and breastfeeding do so because they are aware of studies showing the harms this can cause to their infants. Most, however, likely are led to this choice by their innate wisdom. The choice to have a natural childbirth is often criticized as unnecessary because of claims that drugs such as codeine are safe. The new understanding of genetic variations provides evidence that the instincts of mothers who choose to avoid these situations should be trusted.

Mothers who are in a situation where they are offered pharmaceutical treatments should carefully weigh the potential, unknown risks of taking these medications. Because the effects a drug will have on one individual cannot be predicted by what has happened in others, one cannot be too cautious in making this decision. As with many parenting decisions, the choice to use pharmaceuticals cannot be taken lightly. It is prudent for all individuals, but especially nursing mothers and growing children, to avoid these potentially toxic chemicals whenever possible.

Latest Research on Long-term Effects of Child Abuse

By Rita Brhel, managing editor and attachment parenting resource leader (API)

Child abuse effectsIn the United States alone, there are 3.2 million referrals to social services on allegations of child maltreatment each year — one-quarter of which are found to have a substantiated case of physical or sexual abuse or severe neglect. Seventy-five percent of these founded cases of abuse or neglect had no prior history. It’s an astounding number of children who aren’t living in safe, loving homes — especially knowing that these numbers don’t count the abused and neglected children living around the world. It’s a number that child maltreatment prevention researcher David Zielinski, PhD, wants to stick in your mind.

“I can highlight this, I can underline this — we’re talking about a huge number of children,” said Zielinski, who works with the National Institute of Mental Health. Earlier this year, he addressed a wide audience of researchers, social workers, and other professionals in the field of child abuse prevention and treatment through a webinar hosted by the Quality Improvement Center on Early Childhood.

That “huge number of children” Zielinski was describing translates into another sizable group – 25 million to 30 million adults, just in the U.S., who were abused or neglected as children. Research has shown us that individuals who experienced abuse and neglect have a higher risk of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and other anxiety disorders, antisocial personality disorder, substance abuse, and other addictions. And it’s well known that adults who were abused or neglected as children are more likely to become abusers themselves.

“You learn what’s appropriate based on imitation,” Zielinski said.

But the effects of this abuse tend to focus on treatment, rather than prevention — on the individual, rather than society. Continue reading Latest Research on Long-term Effects of Child Abuse

Welcome to the Twilight Zone: A Boy Brought Back from Autism

By Avril Dannebaum, co-leader of API-NYC

Paint strokesMy son woke up that summer morning and came to me. His light blue-green eyes were clear, and he looked healthier than I had seen him in a long time. Something was different with my three-year old.

“I want to paint today.”

I paused in shock at his request. It was a bright morning, just one of many beautiful days we’d had that summer in 2000. But a feeling of unreality washed over me. With those simple words, I had entered the twilight zone.

For almost two years before that day, my son hadn’t spoken much at all, hadn’t searched out my eyes, hadn’t really done anything that a normally developing child would do. He had lived in a separate universe, a never-never land of lost boys and lost parental dreams. My little cabbage boy.

Suddenly, as spectacularly as my son had disappeared, he was back with me. I didn’t react. There were no big moments of hugging or kissing him. In general, he didn’t care for demonstrations of affection. So I didn’t fuss. Frankly, I didn’t quite believe what was happening. My husband was getting ready for work, and so I just went through the usual motions of making breakfast, while wondering if this would last. Wondering if I was dreaming.

I got out his paints and his easel. What had happened? What had brought my son home to me?

A Leap of Faith

The day before we had taken a train trip upstate to Brewster, New York to a DAN! (Defeat Autism Now!) protocol doctor  – the very same doctor who had been mentioned in Karyn Seroussi’s book, Unraveling the Mysteries of Autism and PDD.

About DAN!

Defeat Autism Now!™ (DAN!) is a project of the Autism Research Institute, a group of physicians, researchers, and scientists committed to finding effective treatments for autism. DAN! does not regard psychotropic drugs as the best or only means of treating autistic patients. More information can be found at

My son had acted up on the train, screaming and yelling, hurling his body back against the stroller I’d confined him in. Being on the autistic spectrum this was standard operating procedure. I was glad that the train compartment was almost empty because it cut down on the amount of dirty looks I would receive for having a tantruming preschooler. Finally, after our taxi ride, he settled down in the doctor’s office while we waited. He had found a basket of fast food restaurant toys and he was content.

It never failed to amaze me that a child so nonresponsive to his mother and father, never hearing us and never searching us out, could spot a favorite toy from yards away and make a bee line to it. Yet I found that reassuring somehow – that even though he didn’t care for us, there was something in his universe that he loved: Blue from Blue’s Clues, Thomas the Tank Engine, Elmo and his other friends from Sesame Street. As long as he loved them, he wasn’t alone. They reached him where we could not.

The doctor recommended that we use twilight sleep so that my son wouldn’t struggle during the prolonged blood draw necessary for all the testing we needed to have done. And it would help because after taking the blood we’d be doing an IV push of Secretin and vitamins, which would also take more than a few minutes.

It took me and two nurses to hold down my son’s small yet very strong, three-year-old body. He screamed and struggled until the sedative took effect. It broke my heart, but I had had two years of getting used to being heart-broken. I was so used to it, and yet it still hurt.

My mother, 68 years of age, a vivacious woman who talked a lot but rarely gave any thought into what she was saying, lived only a few miles away and was there to pick up my very groggy son and me after the appointment. My son was very much under the effects of the drug we’d used to calm him and I had to be careful that he didn’t hurt himself as he flopped around. Thank goodness for my mother driving us back to the city because I’m not sure I would have been able to handle the train trip back. My boy went to sleep as soon as we got home.

And then it was the next day, and a child I hadn’t seen for two years was back with me. I didn’t think miracles happened just like that. Hadn’t the government and various studies debunked the use of Secretin? Maybe it had been the vitamins?

In the next few weeks, we spent all of our savings and maxed out our credit cards with this doctor, on the basis that the two years we had stuck with mainstream doctors and therapies had done little to nothing for our child. Time was passing. Our son’s childhood and potential were speeding by us.

Our leap of faith had paid off. Eye contact, and speech, but more – much more: someone was home again in there. Someone who knew us, knew that we loved him and cared for him.

The Food Connection

In Attachment Parenting (AP), very often a family will be confronted with a professional’s opinion that goes against what is in their hearts. Doctors will tell moms to quit breastfeeding and introduce solids. They will tell families not to share sleep, because it will permanently hurt the child. They are told to let their child cry-it-out.

Our doctors had ignored our son’s constipation and diarrhea for two years. Earlier that year his bowel movements had been so acidic that they had left welts on his upper thighs and testicles. We’d had to change him in the bath tub while he screamed in pain. And once, after having popcorn, our son’s constipation had reached the point where he couldn’t stand up straight or walk. It had taken two baby enemas to clean him out.

Our mainstream doctors hadn’t seen a connection between our son’s bowel problems and his Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Everything I had been told about it being solely genetic and irreversible, except through behavioral modification and heavy-duty drugs, was a lie. Here I had proof that ASD is reversible: Our boy was back, at least as long as he avoided gluten, casein, soy, and corn.

And so we took our first steps on a trip through a world where doctors, public health administrators, and even some politicians lie to protect themselves from the truth: Genetics is the gun, but environment is the trigger.

Our son’s dramatic response to Secretin had shown us that symptoms of autism are reversible. Eventually we found Secretin to have diminishing results, and it was his diet which kept him from drifting away from us.

The Vaccine Connection

Two years later, he had his first biopsy and colonoscopy and was found to have Lymphonodular Hyperplasia of the colon – a condition associated with chronic measles activity from the MMR vaccine.

Our Son Returned

This journey has been a long one, filled with twists and turns and even a few dead ends. I didn’t know, couldn’t know, if after losing two years of his development whether he would ever be fully normal. But he was talking, making eye contact and the stimming was gone, and that was good enough for my husband and me to see that our son was still there and had never been completely lost.

What is Stimming?

“Stimming” refers to repetitive, self-stimulating movement, such as through flapping, tapping, scratching, or rocking.

Where would we be now if we hadn’t listened to our hearts and tried alternate therapy for our son? I was grateful that I had a support community of parents who were of a like mind about AP. They stood by and encouraged me to believe that something more was going on with our son than genetics alone. They were there for me to help me parent my child gently even when he was screaming and tantruming every day. They helped me through the pain and anguish of my own son not knowing his mom anymore. Thank goodness for those parents who wouldn’t let me give up hope.

For More Information

Rescue Generation:
Safe Minds:
Autism Research Institute:
Heavy metal toxicity:

Changing the Course of Autism by Dr. Brian Jepson
Healing the New Childhood Epidemics: Autism, ADD, Asthma and Allergies by Dr. Kenneth Bock
Children with Starving Brains by Dr. Jaqueline Candless
Unraveling the Mysteries of Autism and Pervasive Developmental Disorder by Karyn Seroussi
Special Diets for Special Kids by Lisa Lewis
Evidence of Harm by David Kirby
The Child with Special Needs by Stanley Greenspan
Is This Your Child? by Dr. Doris Rapp

An AP Approach to Autism

By Melissa Hincha-Ownby, editor of the API Speaks blog

Melissa Hincha-Ownby
Melissa Hincha-Ownby

Like many families that I know, my husband and I just sort of fell into Attachment Parenting. When our son was born in 2001, we found our parenting style to be in line with Attachment Parenting concepts. As we added baby number two in 2003, I was introduced to the challenges of parenting two children. Of course, we kept with the Attachment Parenting style because it helped address some of these challenges (can anyone say sleepy mom of two?).

Fast forward a couple of years, and our Attachment Parenting style helped us with one of the biggest parenting challenges that I think we’ll ever have to face — autism.

In November 2006, the day before my daughter’s third birthday, she was diagnosed with autism. Technically, her diagnosis was autistic disorder. At this point, there are five different diagnoses that fall under the pervasive developmental disorder umbrella and autistic disorder was one of these.

After hearing those words, “Your daughter has autism,” I began to read everything I could get my hands on. A lot of the literature focused on behavior therapy as the gold standard with regards to helping a child with autism reach their potential. I was a little concerned that the behavior therapy being proposed was not very child-friendly but also concerned that this type of therapy may be needed. Although my daughter’s delays were very evident, I stayed the course with an Attachment Parenting approach and searched for other options. Continue reading An AP Approach to Autism

The Autism Book: Interview with pediatrician Dr. Robert Sears

By Rita Brhel, managing editor and attachment parenting resource leader (API)

The Autism BookI have to admit that before I read the latest addition to the Sears Parenting Library – The Autism Book: What Every Parent Needs to Know about Early Detection, Treatment, Recovery, and Prevention by Dr. Robert W. Sears, MD, FAAP – that I had only a very basic idea of what autism was. The complexity of this medical disorder simply had me baffled, and because I thought I had no personal connection to autism, I conveniently stayed away from the topic.

But when you’re involved in parenting support, at some point you have to break out of your comfort zone in order to help more families. And attached families certainly aren’t immune to autism.

A few years ago, Dr. Sears wowed us with his acclaimed The Vaccine Book. The Autism Book is just as wonderful. Personally, I have received quite an education from the book. It provides a comprehensive look on this medical condition, and has the added appeal in that it offers both an introduction to autism as well as all the latest research and theories on mainstream and alternative treatments — and even a bit on the subject of prevention. By the time I finished the book, I thoroughly understood all aspects of autism. Dr. Sears has written The Autism Book to be THE handbook on parenting a child with on the autism spectrum.

Dr. Robert W. SearsIn our interview, Dr. Sears gives us some insight to what he hopes to accomplish by writing The Autism Book.

RITA: How did you first become interested in autism?

DR. SEARS: Ten years ago, a new patient walked into my office [located in California, USA] with a child with autism. She asked for help guiding her through all the various treatment options. I knew absolutely nothing about autism at that time, but I wanted to help. So, I began learning everything I could through physician seminars, books, and mentoring under other doctors who specialized in autism.

Through this first patient, and several others in the following months, I learned that there is a whole world of treatment options out there. Some treatments help most kids and some only help a minority. But, I learned that children with autism can recover and lose their diagnosis, and after I saw this happen with several of my patients, I knew that treating autism as a pediatrician would become a lifelong passion for me. I also became involved in the parent support group, Talk About Curing Autism (, which has taught me so much in ways that only parents can teach a physician.

RITA: What led you to write your book, and how do you hope for your book to benefit families?

DR. SEARS: Treating autism requires a lot of time educating parents. So, I thought I’d throw everything I know into a book so my own patients could read everything I want them to know. But, I also love reaching out to families everywhere with information I feel is important. With the continually increasing rates of autism — and make no mistake, there is definitely an alarming increase, despite the denials you see in the media — early detection and early intervention are becoming more and more critical. The sooner a baby or toddler or child is identified as being on the autism spectrum, and the sooner intervention begins, the better the chance of a full — or nearly full — developmental recovery.

Physicians used to think, and I am admittedly guilty of this, that it didn’t matter what age a child was diagnosed, because there wasn’t much we could do about it. Autism was autism, and there was no hope for treatment or recovery. Now that we know the complete opposite is true, physicians and parents need to have the tools to detect autism at the earliest possible age so life-changing treatment can begin.

But with the various “alternative” medical treatments out there, I wanted to give parents a science-based look at what integrative and complimentary treatments could help there child, along with mainstream treatments. So, I put it all together for parents everywhere to be able to read. There are some treatments that require a doctor’s guidance, but there are so many treatments that parents can do on their own without a doctor’s help and I wanted to put such tools into parents’ hands.

RITA: Your book touches on prevention of autism, which I found very interesting but something we don’t hear much in mainstream media. Could you give an overview for our readers?

DR. SEARS: The last chapter of the book deals with prevention, in as much as prevention may be possible. I address how to identify autism-associated medical or nutritional problems early on and how to fix them, with the hope that such steps may prevent or limit the autism problems. I also discuss how to approach medical care in a way that may help be protective against autism, as well as how to prevent autism in subsequent children in families who already have one child with autism.

RITA: There is a study that began in 2008 seeking to determine whether mother-child attachment can be used as prevention for autism. What are your thoughts on this?

DR. SEARS: The issue on whether or not Attachment Parenting (AP) can help prevent autism is a tough one. We do know from research that AP kids tend to grow up smarter and happier, and that AP enhances intellectual and motor development during infancy. But, does this benefit extend to autism? I don’t know. I know AP kids who have developed autism. I don’t think we can speak to this until some research is done. My opinion, however, is that the neurobiological mechanisms that cause autism are so complicated that AP practices may not be enough to overcome the autism.

It’s very important not to cast blame on any parent for their child’s autism. And to suggest that a child with autism who was not attachment-parented may have turned out better if he had been AP’d is not an appropriate statement to make to any parent. So, until we know, I don’t like to presume that AP may help prevent autism.

RITA: What tips do you have for AP families affected by autism? Are there particular principles or parenting practices that are more helpful than others, or vice versa?

DR. SEARS: Autism behavioral interventions are very unique and complex. The proper way to interact with a child with autism might not always be intuitive. Specific behavioral interventions are usually provided one-on-one with a licensed therapist, and these techniques are usually taught to the parents, as well. I recommend parents become somewhat adept at the techniques they learn from such therapists. But of course, nothing can replace the loving care a parent can provide, and from an AP standpoint, patience is definitely a virtue.

One very important concept for parents to realize is that the divorce rate in families with autism is extremely high. Perhaps the single most important factor that keeps a family together is a father who accepts the child’s diagnosis and jumps into getting involved with the child’s therapy; a dad who understands what is going on and takes part in it. A dad, on the other hand, who steps back from the whole situation, and just views himself as the money maker for the family, may soon become detached from the family unit and will find a distance developing between himself, his child, and his spouse. Becoming active in a local parent and family autism support group can really help.

RITA: Could you summarize the top two or three concepts from your book for our readers?

DR. SEARS: The book is divided into four sections:

  1. Early detection: as discussed above, this concept is key so that early intervention, and a greater chance of recovery, can occur.
  2. Causes: I discuss what we know about possible causes. Much of this is theoretical, but we are learning more and more scientifically, as well. I also go over what type of testing is useful in order to look for associated medical and nutritional problems.
  3. Treatment: I go over behavioral/developmental therapy, nutritional therapies, and integrative (“alternative”) therapies. I don’t just give general advice – I provide specific guidance on exactly what to do and how to do it.
  4. Prevention: I provide information on how to lower a child’s risk of developing autism. This isn’t always possible, but I share what we do know and what parents can do.

Readers can check out the book’s intro and table of contents at

RITA: Thank you, Dr. Sears, for your time and insights. Any closing thoughts you’d like to share?

DR. SEARS: Autism used to be a diagnosis will little hope of treatment or improvement. Many kids were institutionalized. And although the diagnosis can be a very difficult time for families, today there is so much more hope and available treatment options than 20 years ago. There is a lot of work involved in autism treatment, but by seeking the help of other parents and the right professionals, improvement is very likely and recovery is possible.

From Heartache to Hope: Interview with Leisa Hammett of the Autism Society of Middle Tennessee

By Rita Brhel, managing editor and attachment parenting resource leader (API)

From Heartache to HopeThe personal stories of families and individuals affected by autism in the beautifully photographed book, From Heartache to Hope: Middle Tennessee Families Living with Autism by Leisa A. Hammett, were an amazing read.

The book follows 18 families in how they have struggled with one or more family members receiving a diagnosis of autism and how they moved literally from heartache to hope — with the parenting support offered by their local Autism Society of Middle Tennessee, USA. This book illustrates the vital importance of unconditional attachment between parent and child in a circumstance where autism exists.

Leisa, a mother of a child on the autism spectrum, offers more insight into why this book came to be.

RITA: How did you first became interested in helping other parents of children with autism?

LEISA: I’ve always been a flag waver — guess I was born with one flapping in my hand. And then, after serving as a social justice reporter covering poverty, homelessness, addiction, etc., I was moved to use my life, my faith, my gifts, what I possessed, to work for change. That time in my life, my mid-20s, was catalytic. So, in many ways, it’s a bit ironic that I ended up being the type person with circumstances and challenges about whom I used to write. Also, ironically, I’d finished up a volunteer stint as my local La Leche League chapter’s librarian and had promised to do the same for Attachment Parenting International in Nashville, where I live.

But that’s when the “A bomb” dropped. Resources, time, and energy, of course, had to be redirected. Continue reading From Heartache to Hope: Interview with Leisa Hammett of the Autism Society of Middle Tennessee