How did this woman get the ear of the PM? She and her supporters ran an astute marketing campaign of billboards and posters costing over £500 000 (according to their press release). She and a group of other rich and attractive mothers posed in comely black dresses as the "Autism Mothers: Delivering Where Governments Have Failed." They are supposed to show that these women "aren't downtrodden, ill educated women who somehow deserve to have an autistic child."
Their billboards made out that this woman alone can save the PM £508 million a year, can help cut the divorce rate, can help him get people back to work. She is the messiah mum! She's going to make it all better.
The billboards didn't make it to Northern Ireland, but I've heard that there were loads of them about in England. For some reason, they were common in motorway service station toilets too.
But Gordon Brown for some bizarre reason fell for it and has since met the amazing Polly. I met her too 7 years ago and wrote about it here:
I spent a long afternoon listening to her theories and her detailed regime to rid her son of his autism. Back then I was impressed at her zeal and ostensible knowledge of autism's causes and treatments. Her son had had intensive ABA teaching. He had a host of supplements daily. He was fed only organic food and water from glass bottles, lest any pesky toxins intrude.The Autism File magazine has moved on too. It still backs failed gastroenterologist/autism quack therapist Andrew Wakefield wholeheartedly, and still pushes unproven biomedical treatments as the best option for autistic children, and carries copious advertisements for the providers of such woo, but these days it's more widely available. Sadly, there's a market for such bollocks.
She talked about his numerous infections and how she believed the many courses of antibiotics he'd taken as a baby, together with vaccinations, were connected to his autism.
I was caught up in her pitch and wanted to think that she knew how to help me help [Duncan]. She warned me against joining the local NAS group where they refused to believe in cures and whose acceptance she interpreted as negativity.
She was a very kind lady. She welcomed me into her home and really did want to share what she knew in an effort to help. She presented me with a glut of her magazines which I read religiously for the next week or so. I tried to get Gordon to take an interest in it all. I showed him the article by the nutropath, advocating various vitamins and minerals. I showed him the articles about the labs which tested autistic children's hair, blood and stools and found all sorts of non standard levels. He scoffed at the lot of it. He just knew too much about microbiology, statistics, pharmacology etc. to be taken in by any of it. He pointed out a pile of what were (to him) ridiculous assertions contained in the magazines, and since he really knows his stuff, I dumped the lot of them.
But times have changed since then. What could be attributable to ignorance back in 2002, is less excusable today. The science has moved on. Numerous studies have failed to find a link between vaccination and autism, while as many have found more evidence for the genetic basis of the condition. Those who cling to environmental explanations in the face of the evidence are coming from a faith based position.
Here's how this dynamo of autism nonsense is introduced in the Daily Mail:
A few weeks ago, a one-woman campaign culminated in Polly Tommey meeting the Prime Minister to improve support for the families of children with autism.Oh really? A petition in her favour got only 574 signatures. Where is the evidence that this woman and her company represent "thousands of other parents"? The NAS is much more representative of autistic adults and children and their parents/families.
She was fighting for the sake of thousands of other parents around the country, having become an unofficial 'Good Samaritan' for the desperate parents of autistic children.
Polly starts her article by describing the time she counselled a man who felt suicidal because he couldn't cope with his autistic 2 year old son. It's great that she was able to stop him killing himself but why did he have her phone number to call in his time of need? Why has she set herself, as an individual no more qualified than I myself am, to be the authority and source of help and information for parents of autistic children. Wouldn't a well established charity like the NAS be more useful?
Polly then describes "how unrelentingly hard it is looking after autistic children" with an apparently illustrative incident in which her son, then aged just two, pulled his six month old little brother's hair out. While I'm sure that was traumatic for the baby and hard on his mum, it's hardly unusual for toddlers, autistic and not, to inadvertently hurt their baby siblings. Oh I forgot, here's what marks it out as bizzarro autismo stuff; "Toby was screaming and his head was all bloody - but Billy was just laughing." Yes, the two year old laughed instead of recognising the full magnitude of his crime and promising to make reparations.
Polly tells us about her charmed life before the dread autism came to call and she and her husband "cried until we fell asleep" for six weeks. She calls her son's autism "regressive autism" and was "desperate to get my child back. I would have done anything for a smile or a cuddle, or to hear him say: 'I love you, Mum.'"
Polly continues with the myth of the autism gut:
People don't realise that a large proportion of autistic children have terrible gut problems, and for 18 months that was the case with Billy. Any normal child would have been taken to A&E at some point and given a battery of tests, but with autistic children doctors say it's just part of their autism.Just what is the evidence that autistic children have more gut problems than non autistic? And why would a child go to the A&E department for tests on autism? That's one of the oddest suggestions I've heard yet. I've said it before, if you think your child has gut issues, see a doctor, but not at an accident and emergency department. When a child is sick, it's irrelevant that the child has autism. When Duncan was younger and had a limited diet and wasn't gaining weight fast enough, we were referred to a paediatric gastroenterologist as part of the investigations into his health needs. He had various tests performed, all by proper doctors and all expenses were covered by the NHS. No doctor has ever said to us that any of Duncan's medical issues should be taken as just part of his autism. But maybe we've just been lucky.
The Tommeys discovered the gluten free/casein free diet and like magic, Billy improved. His Dad was so impressed that he sought out more sources of (mis)information on biomedical approaches to autism and he "re-trained as a clinical nutritionist."
Of course he did!
But what's this, in the bit about how they were the first in the UK to try treating their son with the hormone secretin, Polly says that "Billy still suffered terrible constipation, and we thought it would help regulate his gut. It worked and Billy's behaviour improved."
But...I thought the GFCF diet had sorted all that?! Anyway, one of the couple's media mates got them onto the Trevor McDonald Tonight TV show talking about secretin and they found themselves "inundated with people asking us for help." They decided to start a magazine, it's circulation is now an impressive 44,000 and it's on sale nationally for £4.95. It's safe to say, the Tommeys words are read a bit more than my own.
Polly then explains the type of problems people ask for their help with but she admits, "I am not trained to deal with any of this. All I can do is listen and advise where I can."
So why not send them to the NAS, where the phone counsellors are trained?
She comes out with an amazing admission:
There is so much misinformation out there, and so little understanding from health professionals, emergency services and the authorities that it makes caring ten times harder.The Autism File magazine is one such source of misinformation.
The article proceeds with an anecdote of autism induced difficulties. In this case however, if what she says is true, a terrible miscarriage of justice has been suffered by the man described. He screamed on a bus when he couldn't deal with the sound of a baby crying, was taken away by the police and sectioned. This is all told from the perspective of his mother who, Polly says, "didn't see him for six months and by the time she got him back he was pumped full of drugs and could only sit rocking backwards and forwards in his bedroom. All her hard work had been destroyed."
All her hard work?! Polly continues;
The cost of life care for an autistic person is around £2.9 million, but we think that with the right help that could be massively reduced.This figure relates to the cost of a person with autism and a learning disability. For people with High Functioning Autism, the same authors estimated the cost at £784 800.
Polly postulates the provision of an autism centre which she reckons would cost £10million to set up and "where we could educate the police, magistrates, teachers and anyone else who comes into contact with autism."
The unsubstantiated claims of biomedical believers are shared;
There are amazing things being done to help autistic kids, particularly with biomedical intervention - detoxifying children through supplements and probiotics, diet, speech therapy and behaviour analysis.But, why should the state fund this when there is no evidence of its effectiveness?
Some children respond so well they are taken off the autistic spectrum and can return to mainstream school.
But very little of this help is available on the NHS, or through the local education authority.
Polly might learn from an astonishingly good article the Mail ran earlier, the great autism rip-off.
Polly tells that Gordon Brown "loved the billboard campaign and said it was genius."
The article continues;
Gordon wants me to work with his wife Sarah to bring all the autistic organisations together so that we can work for a common cause. He wants there to be more understanding towards autistics, and for them to be more included in society.I am all for more understanding of and towards autistic people. I don't see how this can be achieved by attending a conference run by a group of parents whose dearest aim is the removal of their child's autism. The government representatives would be better off meeting actual autistic people to learn from them about their needs for services and respectful, inclusive treatment.
For that to happen, the public sector needs educating, so he wants his representatives to attend a conference that our charity, The Autism Trust, is running in October. We want doctors, scientists and the public sector to learn more about dealing with autistic people.