She acted just like the Jenny you remember from the 90's, except a little more mature. She was very funny and really brought a sense of relief to the people in the room. (BTW, she is talking to me while we are taking the picture. It kind of looks like she doesn't like me very much. Funny!)
Jenny spoke to a packed room this weekend at the Autism One Conference in Chicago. I popped a squat on the floor and stared out at the hundreds, probably thousands, of people in the auditorium. I was lucky to be able to see her. There were many, many people who spilled out into the lobby and barely heard her talk.
You have probably heard by now, Jenny has a little boy, Evan, who has autism. She has been very vocal about the struggles she and thousands of other parents are going through. And she has really made a big effort to get the other side of the autism story in the media. She says she has made "Big Pharma" mad. She started her speech by saying, "I am not anti-vaccines. I am anti-toxin." She thinks the vaccine schedule needs to be changed. I know there are lot of physicians who disagree, but whether you agree with her opinion or not, I admire how she is fighting for her son.
Jenny is very passionate about helping her son recover. When I told her I was with the media, she said, "Biomedical treatments. That's what I want you to cover." She says her son has dramatically improved after she started the Gluten-Free Casein-Free diet. It sounds like a nightmare to implement with no wheat, no milk and a lot of other "No's." However, Jenny explained why she believes it works for her son. She says her son doesn't excrete toxins like other people do. She says it's like her son gets a "high" off certain foods. She says so many moms have told her they can't stop giving their kids milk because they loooooovvveee milk. Jenny says that's because the milk is making them stoned. Of course they love it. She said she is so strict about her son's diet, when Evan is in high school his friends will rebel and go drink and he's be like, "No, lets go eat donuts!" I don't know if a medical person would explain autism the way she does, but she made it very easy to understand!
I was invited to the conference to be part of the journalism panel. It was great to hear why other journalists have gotten involved in autism research. And it was very interesting to hear their responses to questions from the audience. This is a picture of David Warner, the Vice President of the Autism Society of Mclean County. He and his wife went to the conference and even saved me some room on the floor so I could hear Jenny.
During the media session, of course, there was a lot of complaining about what the media does and does not cover, but I think overall it was a good session. I would be happy to do it again. I think it is good for parents to hear from someone who cares about kids with autism, but does not have an autistic child. It's an important perspective to keep in mind. After all, if autism hasn't impacted your life yet, it soon will. So my advice is to stay informed. These kids will be graduating from high school soon. Then what? We think there's a health care crisis now, just wait. Even if you aren't passionate about helping these kids, like I am, you should still care about this topic. It's huge.
Here are the other people on the panel:
Mark Blaxill - Age of Autism
Julie Deardorff - Chicago Tribune
Rex Huppke - Chicago Tribune
Dan Olmsted - Age of Autism
Ashley Reynolds - KOMU / Missouri School of Journalism
Kim Stagliano - Age of Autism
I will post more this week about what I learned!