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Gabby Giffords and Autism


Like all Americans, I’m sure, I am in awe of Congresswoman Gabby Giffords. It is easy for ASD parents like myself to get bogged down in frustration and disappointment with government agencies and officials. However, a congresswoman like Gabby Giffords is someone we can all admire.

It is important to look for inspiration in life wherever we can find it. Watching Gabby Giffords make her way through Congress, saying goodbye to her colleagues and staff and submit her resignation to the Speaker of the House truly moved me. We all would like to think we would handle such a devastating attack with such determination and grace. Giffords was shot in the head a year ago and her incredible recovery is a testament to excellent medical care and Giffords’ resilience and hard, hard work.

As I watched Congresswoman Giffords make her way through Congress my thoughts shifted towards the nature of traumatic brain injuries. Like many ASD parents, I have never really viewed Christian’s “autism” as autism, but more akin to a traumatic brain injury.

Many of you know Christian’s story but for the benefit of those who do not here it is. In 2003 I had a nearly toilet trained, silly and affectionate, very athletic 2 year old boy with a 1,000 word vocabulary and then, within months, he was, in essence, gone. Christian lost all his words, every single one. Not only that, Christian clearly could no longer understand English.  Christian easily spent half the day screaming and trying to bang his head on the floor. All language requests were met with a glazed, checked out look, a look I later came to understand as absence seizures. Christian also stopped recognizing family members. First he no longer knew our friends, then my siblings and then his grandparents, with whom he had been very close. Christian once ran to greet my mother; he now stared at her blankly and screamed if she got too close. Whereas in spring 2004 Christian clamored to “hold his baby” and tell his baby brother, “it’s OK, no cry,” by fall his brother was an inanimate object to him. Simultaneously, Christian lost all gross and fine motor abilities. He went from being a playground champ to being unable to climb a simple ladder or stairs.

Doctors told me that autism was a social and behavioral genetic disorder. I kept asking what does that have to do with the fact that Christian can’t recognize his family or the fact we are constantly in and out of hospitals? Christian had a brain injury not a social disorder.

Dr. Nina Zeldis, a professor of brain rehabilitative medicine at Tel Aviv University, is arguing for a paradigm shift in treating head trauma, “we need to understand the physiology of disease- it really is a disease- and how to manipulate it.” Zalfonte describes recovery not only as behavioral but “helping people to enhance integration of learning and improve balance and verbal output.” That sounds familiar to me. Christian and I spent hours and hours every day on the playground relearning how to climb a ladder, use a slide, run across a mini bridge, slide down a pole. Our family went swimming, bought new bikes, a trampoline, a Barney workout tape, pot holder kits, anything he was willing to do (and it was hard work getting Christian to do any of this for a long time) that might help him regain his fine and gross motor abilities. The process was much like how people relearn how to walk, shower or dress themselves after a stroke. Christian once again learned how to use the playground (rather than screaming in fear when he was on a ladder or slide), put his shoes on, swim, drink from a sippy cup... My whole family were, naturally, thrilled to see Christian’s motor skills recovery. He worked so hard to make it happen. Unfortunately, recovering Christian’s cognitive abilities and physical health would prove much more challenging.

Many amazing OTs helped Christian along the way. Don’t you wish basic occupational and physical therapy for ASD kids got some real attention by researchers? If this subject got 1/50th the investment of psychotropic drugs trials wouldn’t you be thrilled? Gabby Giffords also had a team of OTs and speech therapists helping her.

Loss of gross and fine motor skills, a common result of traumatic brain injuries, is most successfully remediated via behavioral interventions. That worked well for Christian and Gabby. I was thrilled to be able to figure that part out. However, during early critical period of the brain injury, Christian’s cognitive damage, unlike Gabby’s, was addressed only via behavioral therapy. That did not work well for Christian. He needed a physiological intervention for the total body inflammation that was rapidly damaging his brain, gut and immune system. Instead all Christian got was 1-1 teaching.

Yes, no doubt about it Gabby Giffords was lucky, the gun shot wound could have been worse but with excellent medical care she has made a remarkable recovery. It was amazing watching Giffords, walking through Congress smiling, clearly thrilled to be greeting colleagues. Yes her speech is halting but she is able to communicate well. Giffords was shot in the head with a 9mm bullet at point blank range. The bullet tore through the back of her head and exited near her eye. The part of the brain brain most damaged by the bullet manages vision, language and motor control. Those are the same parts of Christian’s brain that suffered damage. Like Gabby, so many regressive ASD kids lose language, motor control and some vision. Christian went from making beautiful eye contact to viewing everything only via peripheral vision.

As if Christian’s primary regression was not bad enough, a few months later while on vacation in Florida, Christian suffered a semi-stroke. I believe this happened because his initial brain injury was never treated. Christian woke up one day with totally glazed-over eyes and his tongue hanging out of his mouth. One side of his face was droopy and he was drooling. That day Christian did not seem to understand a word I was saying, nor could he not respond to his name or even eat. I frantically called his doctor in NY and she told me it was probably nothing and he would snap out of it.  More bad medical advice that I followed, like an idiot. However, the next morning the stroke symptoms were gone and gradually he was present and with us again but never really the same. This stroke/ regression had severely damaged his brain.

Dr. Zeldis described the aftermath brain injury as follows: 1) difficulty speaking and understanding speech (check), 2) difficulty reading (I wish!), 3) increased impulsivity (double check), 4) loss of emotional control (check), and 5) diminished hand/eye coordination (triple check). These symptoms are nearly identical to Christian’s autism.

Ms. Giffords was shot in the head. If that isn’t a brain traumatic brain injury what is? She was shot in the head; the bullet went through her brain yet she has made phenomenal recovery.  Amazing, and wonderful right?

What happened to my son’s brain that resulted in more severe and lasting brain damage than someone who was shot, at point blank range, in the head? It is my hypothesis that Christian has failed to make Gabby Gifford style progress because his regression was treated as a genetic behavioral disorder, not as the traumatic brain injury it actually was. Within the span of a few months my son had a series of fevers and a semi stroke. How on earth is this a behavioral disorder? Why did so may doctors fail to recognize the obvious, Christian had a traumatic brain injury?

Ideally what happens in cases where a person recovers from a traumatic brain injury? Dr. Ross Zalfonte is professor at Harvard Medical School and an expert in traumatic brain injuries. Primarily Zalfonte recommends immediate optimal acute intervention.  This often involves an immediate medically induced coma to stop the brain swelling. I was told to wait it out when I called Christian’s doctor detailing his mini stroke.  Dr. Nirt Weiss, a neurosurgeon at Mt. Sinai, also states that initial treatment is critical to recovery. “With brain injuries the worst damage is often not done by initial wound but by the body’s attempt to heal it…Inflammation …in which immune cells rush in and repair injured tissue and remove dying cells can do more harm than good by causing more brain swelling.” Jenny McCarthy’s son, Evan, experienced his first life-threatening seizure in conjunction with the onset of his autism. Evan was placed in a medically induced coma and recovered. But when a kid has strokes and seizures, this is because of “autism,” not a traumatic brain injury?

The majority of mainstream autism researchers refuse to consider a paradigm shift for this ASD subgroup. The idea that a percentage of autism is basically vaccine-induced brain damage frightens them. Well, it frightened me too, but we have to deal with reality. Thank you to Gabby Giffords for inspiring me explore this area of research. More on autism and traumatic brain injuries to follow.



My 17 yr old autistic son is going to gave an eeg tomorrow bc his neurologist thinks he is having brain strokes. He too as a toodler spoke many words and then suddenly lost them and stopped making eye contact, basically the onset of autism. However, now I wonder if maybe all along he has been suffering from mini brain strokes.


"Like all Americans, I'm sure" is a very annoying way to begin an essay.

Don't be sure.

oh wait, I see author has to "approve" comments. Oops, I'm dust.

I'm not in awe of Ms. Giffords and I certainly don't want anyone to be in awe of me because I have an autistic kid.

It's just that....if you're a writer, you should (yes, you really should) think about what you write. "Gabby Giffords inspires me" is acceptable: "Like all Americans" is a dicey statement about ANYthing (and does it mean people in other countries can't be in awe of her? Oh no!) because man oh man, the only thing ALL living Americans do is....breathe.


Thank you for your article. Are you familiar with CEASE therapy? please see
Tinus Smits was a French teacher who became an MD and a homeopath and helped 300 children with autism (out of 300) by treating their brain inflammation with orthomolecular support and homeopathic remedies derived from both vaccines and medicines...
In his experience, 70% of autism is due to vaccines, 25% due to prescription meds given to the mother in utero or to the baby, and 5% other causes..
Good luck, some day (soon!) the truth will emerge.

lisa matthrws bello

I have three almost adult sons who have autism all three have severe allergies and the youngest almost died when he had his mmr shot he got borderline encepelitis till this day he still has small seizures and impulse control issues the other two have both almost died multiple times there are both severe asthmatics their father died of a allergic reaction to a perscription medicine. They were all medically fragile and there father had mild autism.

E.T.'s Mom

My son is 6 1/2. He had a severe reaction the the hep B shot he got when he was only 22 minutes old. He spent 3 days in NICU, on oxygen, fighting for his life because of that shot. He screamed constantly for those 3 days, stopping only from exhaustion. The nurses even complained that a white baby boy, born 3 weeks early and with "aspiration pneumonitis" (The diagnosis the doctors used to cover the fact that he was having a reaction to a shot they hadn't had consent to give) shouldn't be capable of screaming like that. I always knew SOMETHING happened during that time. it wasn't until August, 2010 that I put it together. My mother had a stroke at that time. I was struck by the similarity of her injuries from that stroke to what my son was and is still experiencing. I feel certain he had a stroke while he was in NICU. I also feel that had the hospital not been so intent on covering their butts and actually treated his symptoms, we might not be where we are today.

Courtney Dahl

We had already been battling my son's Autism for 3 years when my stepmother had a stroke. I first was struck, and weirdly a little jealous at the medical path that was laid out and the team of people that stepped in to assist in her recovery especially when I felt that I was forging my own path (while the medical professionals rolled their eyes at me). What I saw first hand was that her symptoms and road to recovery seemed so similar to my son's. I started to wonder if he had a stroke. My son also has a left side issue, left eye affected, left hand, even left leg and ankle.His overall motor planning is poor so I couldn't get agreement on this form medical professionals. Not until he was 10 (just a few short months ago) was he finally diagnosed with left side hemi-paresis probably resulting from a stroke. He now has to wear a boot to protect his left side which has gotten so weak from lack of use that he easily injures himself with simple running and jumping. I wonder how many other children have also suffered and not received the care that they needed. I tell as many people as I can that Autism or what they call Autism is a brain trauma that we are losing our kids to. I appreciate your insight and glad that others are fighting the fight.

chantal Sicile-Kira

Great article, Katie.

Amanda Blinn

This article absolutely had to mention Giffords' situation; our childrens' vaccine induced brain damage must be compared with traumatic brain injury, to illustrate the seriousness and the physicality of it. The result of this comparison will be new ways of looking at healing and rehabilitation.

This is one of the best pieces I've ever read on AOL. Our son is 15, brain damaged several times by vaccines before the age of two; he is making far more progress with the help of our DAN MD than we (or our typical AMA drs) ever hoped but we still have so far to go.

Thank you.


I believe it was Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz who first commented that Gabby Giffords became responsive when her hospital room had the loudest voices. Twenty-five to thirty years ago, it was the conventional belief to keep brain injury or coma patients, less brain stimulated. Keep them in quiet, dark rooms with very little stimulation.

Reaching and stimulating the brain requires all the senses we normally rely on to reach and stimulate the brain.

Its also unlikely that a person who recovers from a vaccine train wreck will ever be allowed to receive recognition or acknowledgement in any government or institutional setting.

What can not be; must not be


My child is eight years old. At two, after his last set of vaccines, his one eye started to cross, his tongue became curled when he tried to speak and the drooling started.

My pediatrician did nothing. Absolutely nothing. I suspected then that he had had a stroke and they did absolutely nothing.


It is a pitiful shame that Hyperbaric Oxygen is not permitted to be accessed by our health care system for traumatic brain injuries, strokes, and Alzheimers. If we lived in Germany we could have access to this therapy through the national health care system, but here in the USA, NO you have to be rich enough to pay for this yourself, and if you don't know about it, no doctor is even going to recommend it.

There is obviously PHYSICAL BRAIN DAMAGE, intestinal damage and chronic inflammation in our children with autism, but how will they ever recover if none of this is even recognized by the medical system.

Regarding this comment "you could have wrote this article without dropping Gabby Giffords' name.".... The perfection of this analogy to Gabby Gifford's traumatic brain injury in relation to autism is excellent, therefore how could the comparison be made in the first place without "dropping Gabby Gifford's name"? I highly doubt that Gabby would object to anything stated here in this article, and if anything, she would likely be very compassionate towards anyone with any kind of brain injury after what she has been through herself!!!

Janet Presson


Excellent article! Be sure to start researching stem cell therapy if you haven't already. We took our 20 year old vaccine -injured son out of the country for stem cells back in December and are seeing some amazing improvements! The program uses his adipose and bone marrow so NO fetal cells are involved!

Best wishes to you and your sweet son!

Jenny Webster

When my son was Dx'd I was working on my B.S in speech pathology. I found it interesting when they said that aphasia in adults was caused my brain injury. period. But Aphasia in kids is a bit of a mystery when these kids have suffered NO brain injury. Um. Well, how do you know?? They just assumed that these kids suffered no injury. Shouldn't the assumption be that they DID.


All the more reason for stem cells!


On a Discovery program on the brian - it talked to some recovering stroke victims who said that they for some reason was very attracted to spinning objects and wheels.

I knew my son had a stroke but no one would listen. No help coming - not even behavorial - nothing from the docs - I had to go looking and it was far and few between --- After all babies having strokes is not suppose to be possible - right!


While my heart swells for your own situation, you could have wrote this article without dropping Gabby Giffords' name.



Go to the site "Stop Calling It Autism", The father who began this is so dedicated. He is working tirelessly to treat the real health issue for children with autism, the immune sytem and the rogue microglia cells causing inflamtion in the brain. I no longer am going to treat my grandson with bandaids when he has gushing wounds. All of the supplements in the world are not enough. His brain will never have a chance to recover without serious intervention like Gabby Giffords recieved. This protocol is I believe a chance for recovery.

Anne McElroy Dachel

Great comparison here. It's amazing that countless thousands of parents, myself included, witnessed their healthy children get sick, but no one seems to care why it happens.

If a child were run over by a Mack truck or someone slugged him/her with a baseball bat would we stand around scratching our heads over the damage? Would it be just a coincidence that the child crawled away dazed and disabled? Would we pretend that getting hit by a truck or a baseball bat couldn't possibly harm a child? That scenario would of course be ludicrous. It would be obvious to everyone what happened to this child.

The real insanity in world today is that we are perfectly willing to see children injected with an ever-increasing vaccination schedule loaded with live viruses and known neurotoxins that experts pretend is the best thing for them. And when they're left sick and disabled by the arsenal of vaccines they're given, is all just a mystery. We only need to be aware and get early intervention.

Anne Dachel, Media

NC mom

Well said, Katie. Thanks


Katie, I know you have provided it before, but what was Christian's exact vaccine program just prior to the regression and the few days following ???

God bless you all.

pass the popcorn

Very interesting observation that Jenny McCarthy's son's medically-induced coma could have been a pivotal factor in his recovery.

You really bring home how traumatic a brain injury "autism" is when you observe that being shot through the brain at point blank range has turned out to be less devastating to Giffords than autism is to some. Calling vaccination "Russian Roulette" isn't so far off.

Shelley Mannell

As a pediatric Physical Therapist I see children with TBI as well as those with ASD. There is definitely a similarity in the difficulties both sets of children experience with balance and gross motor skills. We recognized many years ago that children with Cerebral Palsy are not one group of children but many subgroups and there is now a similar conversation happening regarding ASD. I am hopeful that researchers and clinicians can make the paradigm shift you speak about so eloquently and we can move forward in the treatment of children with ASD.

Lisa Colin

The book 'The Brain That Changes Ttself', by Norman Doidge, about neuroplasticity is worth reading. If our children receive the intense investment, as set forth in this book, starting at an early age many of the children would be much further along in their development. Still other medical issues we have to deal with, but PT 30 min 3x a week, doesn't come near to what the book speaks about.


Wow Katie. I have often correlated autism to brain injury, and this story of what happened to Christian truly brings it home. When my son was injured after a vaccine it also hit his gut and no amount of encouraging words (or disparaging words) from others could assuage my fear that we were battling time to save him. I think all of us have that innate sense that when treated early our kids have a better chance of modifying the brain, gut and immune system injuries.

So much more can be done here.

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