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There may be 100 ways to autism, but with the right strategy, there are just as many ways to make vast improvements in the life of your autistic child. In this episode of The Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast, Dr. Daniel Amen and Tana Amen are joined by Lisa Ackerman, the founder of TACA (Talk About Curing Autism). Lisa shares stories of her personal journey in finding avenues for positive change for her autistic son, Jeff.
Dr Daniel Amen: Greetings everyone. Tana and I are here with a very special friend, Lisa Ackerman who is the founder and executive director of Talk About Curing Autism. We actually highlighted Lisa's story in our new book, The Brain Warriors Way, Turning Pain into Purpose. She was, goodness, so many different things. I think what I know about Lisa is she has helped literally tens of thousands of people, and it came out of the pain that she felt terror, I guess would be another word of having--
Lisa Ackerman: That's it.
Dr Daniel Amen: A child that was really suffering, so welcome.
Lisa Ackerman: Oh thank you. It's great to be here with you guys.
Tana Amen: Yeah, thanks Lisa. You know one of the reasons I literally loved your story for our book as I got to know the story and what you do, is because with all the people that we know with autism. I mean the thing that is the common thread, the common story is that sheer not just terror, despair, like complete lack of knowing what to do, the guilt, the shame, the sadness, you know the loss of dreams, all of it wrapped into one, and not knowing what to do for your kid.
Lisa Ackerman: Yeah, and sometimes it's personal, you direct it upon yourself. You're like, no that's not about me. It's that epiphany. It's about this dear child we brought into this world. Our job is to have him be whole, independent, fall in love, and be able to navigate his world without us. That's our job as parents.
Tana Amen: I love that.
Dr Daniel Amen: Tell us the story so that everybody who's listening understands it.
Lisa Ackerman: Yeah, and thank you for accolades. It's like you know sometimes what you do in life, you don't pick it, it picks you. Jeff picked me as his mom, and I am so grateful, and so in love with him. He's just so amazing and so important. The thing that's just astounding to me is telling the story, we hear it thousands and thousands of time. It's not just unique to me. Jeff is unique, but the story and parts of that story are very same across the board.
What I see and what I saw in my kid was for 15 months everything was by the baby book. Everything was milestone after milestone, check it off. You know me I'm a documentarian. I used to work with GIS statistics in demography, so that's what I did for a living way back 100 years ago, which really seems like 100 years ago now that I think of it.
With Jeff, and our daughter Lauren we experienced the beauty of having a kid and just the awe, and the amazing and God giving us this amazing gift. Then one day it just was taken away, and it was shocking. It was scary. It was literally within an hour he was a different human being. What we looked at is did he have a stroke? Did something happen?
Tana Amen: Can I ask you what does that mean? What happened?
Lisa Ackerman: He was really sick on antibiotics, day four of a 10 day course. I preloaded him with Tylenol. We went to the pediatrician, and unfortunately had an adverse reaction to the vaccines. It was the MMR and varicella vacs. That's not the case with everyone. I'm not saying my story is everyone's story, but it could be an infection. It could be anything that happens within the environment that something changes. I think there's probably 100 ways to get to autism. Our way was just that way.
I thought a lot of times that he had a stroke, and you know sitting down and confirming some things with you was really important, but I was afraid to look. Remember you had to kick me, and dragging and screaming. Our story started--
Dr Daniel Amen: Yeah I think I offered it about 10 times.
Lisa Ackerman: Only 10, yeah, and I finally listened.
Dr Daniel Amen: I think we should scan you.
Lisa Ackerman: Then he offered to scan me, and I'm like hell no, that's a dirty mess. Let's leave it alone, let's just let that one sit there, but you'll get me one of these days. I know you will. He's your dog with a bone in a good way. The point being for Jeff is he got really sick. He got extremely sick, so projectile vomiting, no more than sleeping two hours a night for almost six years. He was up 22 hours. There are many times where we were concerned for his safety. He would wander and be a Houdini, get out of any car, any car seat, out of the house even though you lock the door, and here's this short guy figuring how to pull the chair, get the key, get the door open and get out to the park, but walk down the middle of the major street to the parks. Again, sorry I will come back to center. He was diagnosed with autism about a year after that. We knew something was terribly wrong.
Tana Amen: All this was going on before you got that diagnosis.
Lisa Ackerman: Correct.
Tana Amen: You knew something was up, you just didn't know what.
Lisa Ackerman: I didn't know what to call it, and when I Googled back in the day when you'd hear the crazy modem. This was 100 years ago folks. The modem went in and I typed in the symptoms that he had and autism came back. I'm like he didn't hand flap in front of his face and he didn't rock, and he didn't do other things that were on the list. What we know is autism is so different.
Tana Amen: Very different.
Lisa Ackerman: Based on the individual, it's a completely different story. We finally saw our pediatrician. It was a different pediatrician. Our regular one was sick and out of the office. She said, let's just rule some stuff out. I really appreciate that strategy. Don't panic and destruct the parents right then and there. Let's rule rule stuff out.
Tana Amen: Let's not blow the whole thing up.
Lisa Ackerman: Exactly. I just appreciate her more, even to this day. I use it all the time. Let's rule stuff out you know, and it just worked really well. We went in got the speech eval, got the hearing eval. He wasn't deaf, the speech eval said. Instead of operating at two years, nine months, he was operating at a three to six month level. When I had video tape of him saying 10 to 20 words at the time of 15 months. There were other things that disappeared too, his smile.
Tana Amen: Went backwards.
Lisa Ackerman: Correct, correct.
Tana Amen: He regressed.
Lisa Ackerman: Regressed, lost skills. That's why I kept thinking, maybe he had a stroke. Something happened with his brain. There was obviously skill that he had that were no longer there. As a mom, I always, let's fix it. Let's fix, I want to fix this.
Tana Amen: I'm a mamma bear, I get it.
Lisa Ackerman: Something's broke, great,
Tana Amen: Just tell me what it is
Lisa Ackerman: Yeah duct tape, let's go.
Tana Amen: Yeah right? She [inaudible 00:07:25] a lady.
Lisa Ackerman: You know I've got a hammer. Anyway, the point being is he's this beautiful little think, we can't us a hammer. What we ended up doing is like, well my husband said the most important thing. We say one expert, and he said your kid has autism. There's to hope, nothing yo can do, get some therapy for both you and the kid. Then in some time period, we don't know when, you'll have to institutionalize him.
Tana Amen: He basically left you no hope at that point.
Lisa Ackerman: Correct, and my husband and I were shocked. Then we went and saw other experts, and they said the same thing. Me, of course, I'm a puddle. You're talking about my dearest thing, my love. How dare you. He said, well you say there's no hope. We're gonna be the best at no hope, and we're gonna go and see what we can do.
Tana Amen: Oh, I love that.
Lisa Ackerman: Yeah, I thought that was pretty fantastic. We just didn't want to give up.
Tana Amen: That's like the best line I've heard.
Lisa Ackerman: Yeah, yeah. I attribute that to my dear husband.
Tana Amen: Wow.
Lisa Ackerman: The point from there, like you said, pain into purpose, and I just think that when you said it in our last conference, and you and you made those words, I just was like holy guacamole. That's it, pain into purpose. We had no intention of creating a foundation. We had no intention of starting a movement. I don't feel like it's a huge movement.
Tana Amen: You can't not do it, right? It's just that thing you can't not do when you see people suffering.
Lisa Ackerman: As Jeff got better, I wanted every kid to get better, you know. That was so important to me.
Tana Amen: That's your purpose.
Lisa Ackerman: I looked at it like it's not just our family not sleeping. There are probably hundreds of thousands of families across the United States, and the world that aren't sleeping. Looking at what we did with Jeff is we used Quest, and LabCorp tests. We just kept running labs, and we tried to normalize the labs. My husband's a kinesiology major, and so he's very logical, and methodical, and can look at the problem, and read books and understand them. It took me weeks to read one book, weeks. It was him for a couple of days, and he understood it. I'm like, can you explain this in plain English? He just was very thoughtful and let's just normalize the labs.
We kept hearing over and over, "Oh those are just symptoms of autism." Well constipation and diarrhea, throwing up. You know tantruming. "Yeah, that could be a symptom of autism." Why is the kid tantruming. To me--
Tana Amen: Understanding the why.
Lisa Ackerman: Right, and throwing back the layers of the onion, and figuring out what the issues were. As we figured out with good folks in our journey, including you Daniel, that helped us. Even though I ignored you for sometime, and I really apologize, and I'll send you more free passes. My point being is just we wanted to do no harm. Find the things that would help him feel better and function as a human. I mean, he's still quirky. Today, he's still got challenges, but he's in college. He's in college on his own, doing amazing things. His homework is stuff that I can't understand.
Tana Amen: I think both of us are kind of quirky.
Dr Daniel Amen: Diagnosed at three.
Lisa Ackerman: At three.
Dr Daniel Amen: With autism.
Lisa Ackerman: Autism, follow up with apraxia.
Dr Daniel Amen: Had a big regression.
Dr Daniel Amen: What were the things you did early on that were the most helpful. What are some of the things you think most parents with autism should do, should try?
Lisa Ackerman: This will astound some of the people because they know who I am today, and food is medicine. This will crack you up. My husband read on the internet, I heard about removing gluten and casein would be really good for autism. Maybe we should look into that. I'm like, "Nuh-uh, it's my job cooking in the family and you just gave me a huge beast. No way, we can't implement that. That's all he eats," and so we got into a big fight. It was hysterical. So today me being food is medicine girl, it's kind of funny to look back.
The first thing I did, and he said, "Well, you know food, it's not love Lisa." Even though to me it's love. That's how I show love. You come to my house and I feed you. That's my job. My point is that's the first thing we did, was we said well we'll feed him. We're not gonna not feed him. We'll just feed him different things. The thing that woke me up besides being mad at my husband, which was terrible. We got like I said in a fight, was why am i defending this kid's diet. He eat Burger King chicken nuggets, Tiger Milk's Bar, a half gallon of milk, and french fries, and peanut and jelly sandwiches. How is this a defendable diet? We took out dairy, and he stopped projectile vomiting. We took out wheat.
Tana Amen: Interesting.
Lisa Ackerman: It took about six months to notice the difference with wheat, because we made so many mistakes. We accidentally gave weight, because this is a hundred years ago, like I keep saying. Our food came from Canada, okay. We would get boxes of bread that didn't taste like rear end from Canada, 'cause we did it horrible in the United States. Our food would come, and then I figured out, oh he's got a yeast overgrowth. You know, he would get rashes all over. We would do labs, and we treated the yeast. These were the things that just slowly were bringing Jeff out of fog. Still nonverbal 15 months, and we're about five, five and a half now. We started looking at other labs and things to do, so the most important things were removing food allergies. He had 42 food allergies.
Tana Amen: Holy cow.
Lisa Ackerman: It was easier to say what he could eat versus what he couldn't. I would put a shirt on him, if you feed me, my mom will kill you.
Tana Amen: That's so funny.
Lisa Ackerman: Little Tasmanian all over the place.
Lisa Ackerman: Nobody would dare to feed. I made them afraid of me.
Tana Amen: I understand.
Dr Daniel Amen: Food is medicine, food is medicine, and even though you took away 42 things, there were like 8,000 other things you could feed him.
Lisa Ackerman: Correct, that were actually food.
Dr Daniel Amen: I mean all of Tana's recipes will fit for gluten free, dairy free, corn free, soy free.
Tana Amen: I created 400.
Dr Daniel Amen: It's basically an elimination diet and elimination diet that tastes awesome.
Tana Amen: It's funny I just have to relate to you on one level here, because when we talk. He always tells people I went from disaster to master, because when I met him. Literarily when I was single, okay I shouldn't even say this on the air.
Lisa Ackerman: Come on. It's among friends.
Tana Amen: I used to have a thing of frosting in my refrigerator. That's what I ate on my way to the hospital as a nurse. I'm like I'm gonna have a spoonful of frosting and I'm headed to the hospital. No, I'm not kidding. I was like that was my crack. For me to be able to go to this level and go, okay, I knew something was wrong. I just want to be able to relate to you on that level, and go, you know you can do it too. I promise you, you can do this.
Lisa Ackerman: What I found is you know I've got into my 40s and I started to have gastrointestinal issues, and health issues.
Tana Amen: You think I would have understood after cancer three times a long time ago. I'm a slow learner.
Lisa Ackerman: What was stupid, I got on my knees and prayed, dear God, how can I help my son help navigate me, you know show me the way. He's like great, you get in too.
Tana Amen: Right.
Lisa Ackerman: Thanks.
Lisa Ackerman: That's not what I meant.
Tana Amen: Yeah, 'cause they do what you do, not what you say, right.
Lisa Ackerman: Exactly.
Dr Daniel Amen: Normalizing labs, you can't change what you don't measure.
Dr Daniel Amen: You can't change what you don't measure, getting rid of gluten a dairy.
Lisa Ackerman: Correct, and then we found out soy and corn were huge [inaudible 00:15:20].
Dr Daniel Amen: Soy and corns.
Dr Daniel Amen: 85% of the corn in this country is raised with Roundup.
Lisa Ackerman: Yes, and it's really hard on your gut.
Dr Daniel Amen: It's like, oh, and it's safe for humans. Yeah but it's not safe for your micro biles.
Tana Amen: It's hard on your gut anyways.
Lisa Ackerman: It's just interesting.
Dr Daniel Amen: Tell me what else.
Lisa Ackerman: The other things that we went through and did, is looked at his methylation pathways, and this is how your body takes out the trash. They were incredibly broken, incredibly broken, so adding glutathione in, and and we did different levels of glutathione for him. He needed to metabolize it, so there are different ways that we did that.
Dr Daniel Amen: You saw the study, with acetylcysteine, which is one way to boost glutathione. There was this study that came out last year that acetylcysteine decreases aggressiveness in autistic kids.
Lisa Ackerman: That stuff was like buckets of gold, so it was acetylcysteine, vitamin C, and glutathione. It was infused. It was an IV infusion because he was in such terrible shape.
Dr Daniel Amen: Right, an oral glutathione, it's not absorbed properly.
Tana Amen: It doesn't convert.
Lisa Ackerman: It breaks down.
Tana Amen: Yeah.
Lisa Ackerman: There's transdermal. Transdermal, there's a couple products that are transdermal that are amazing.
Tana Amen: I mean I go in a couple times, like in the winter, 'cause I tend to get sick a lot after having cancer, so I do the vitamin infusions and I have them add glutathione to it, 10 minutes. It's not a big deal.
Lisa Ackerman: I do it too just to keep my immune system up as well because there's so many things we gotta get done right. No time to be sick. The other thing was his vitamin D. Blood level of vitamin D levels for him was a six. I was a nine.
Tana Amen: Oh my gosh.
Lisa Ackerman: I was a nine. I was excited. I was almost a 10 like Bo Derek.
Tana Amen: That was the wrong way to look at it. Total wrong way to look at it, FYI.
Dr Daniel Amen: Which doubles your risk of cancer.
Dr Daniel Amen: Everybody listening should know your Vitamin D level. You should know it like you should know your weight, like you should know your blood pressure.
Tana Amen: People who are listening, are gonna want to know it should be so it depends. Doctors are different in what they think. My doctor who manages the cancer that kept coming back, likes me at between 80 and 90. Which that's the high normal.
Lisa Ackerman: There's even newer research that shows above 100 is okay.
Tana Amen: Right, my doctor doesn't get freaked out about that. Some doctors do.
Dr Daniel Amen: High normal's okay. I mean how many of you wanted to be on the bottom of your class? Not me.
Tana Amen: Not me.
Dr Daniel Amen: I like my patients to be somewhere between 70 and 100. You have to be careful if you're proned to kidney stones, sometimes it can't trigger it, which means you have to be careful with grain juices, because they're loaded with oxalates.
Tana Amen: I actually have a couple videos on that, 'cause you're now get people signing me up with a bazillion questions. I have videos on this, on my Facebook page on oxalates, on kidney stones, so don't worry.
Lisa Ackerman: What's crazy is as you talk about the journey and what we had to do oxalates was a big part of it, so low oxalate diet, gluten free, dairy free, and we had to go specific carbohydrate diet to get rid of the yeast and treat with antifungals at the same time.
Dr Daniel Amen: On a low carbohydrate diet?
Tana Amen: So you had a lot of challenges, but you did it.
Lisa Ackerman: Yeah, and now he has, I think it's four food allergies that remain.
Tana Amen: You healed his gut.
Lisa Ackerman: Yeah, exactly. You can do that. I think probiotics were a big thing for us. Hyperbaric oxygen were a big thing for us. Hyperbaric oxygen made a big difference for him, because again, suspecting stroke. What was interesting, was when he started talking after almost six years of age, it was like he had a stroke. It was momee, water, please.
Tana Amen: Oh interesting.
Lisa Ackerman: He's not from France. I did play some jokes on people. Yeah we lived in France for the first three years of his life. He got the accent, I got nothing.
Tana Amen: Oh, so horrible.
Lisa Ackerman: I know. I'm horrible. You gotta do jokes, right?
Dr Daniel Amen: So many practical things. To learn more about Lisa and Lisa's just really amazing work you should to to taca, T-A-C-A tacanow.org, and you can learn about the journey. If you have someone you love who has autism, or one of the autism spectrum, you have to know at TACA. They have so many incredible resources. We're gonna talk about that more coming up.
In the next podcast we're gonna talk about a new study that we're just publishing on just about 1,000 autistic kids. Stay with us.
Lisa Ackerman: That's amazing.
Tana Amen: That was hilarious.