April 2nd, 2008
01:26 PM ET

Finding Amanda

By Dr. Sanjay Gupta
Chief Medical Correspondent 

All day long, you have most likely been hearing and reading about autism on CNN and CNN.com. The numbers, the costs and even the cultural impact. But, what do you really know about it? Have you ever met someone with autism, and would you even know what to look for? These were things I had been thinking about for some time. In our documentary tonight, I will take you on a journey I found remarkable. Straight into the life of someone who has autism.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta with Amanda Baggs

Amanda Baggs is 27, super-intelligent and witty. She lives on a beautiful lake in Vermont and is very skilled at shooting and editing videos. In fact, it was one of her videos on YouTube that first caught the attention of CNN. If I had met her only through e-mails and the Internet, I'd be telling you a very different story. But I was able to visit her in person. Tonight, you will see what I saw and hear some of my first impressions.

Despite the friendly invitations and our lively e-mail banter, Amanda would not look at me when I walked in the room and during my time with her. She wore sunglasses and sat in a wheelchair.  She could make some noises, but she did not speak. If it were not for a device that synthesizes words as she types on a keyboard, we would not have been able to communicate with her at all.

To be clear, Amanda is not typical of people with autism. At a young age she went to school and was considered gifted.  At age 14 her autism was diagnosed.  The diagnosis came late, though her parents and doctors say in retrospect, the signs were almost always there. She rarely made eye contact; she was sensitive to sound and never socialized well with children.  It was only after a child psychiatrist recognized it, that she got the diagnosis.  During Amanda’s teenage years, doctors, social workers and Social Security services who would provide her benefits analyzed her case and confirmed her diagnosis.

She taught me a lot over the few days we spent with her. She told me that looking into someone's eyes felt threatening, which is why she looked at me through the corner of her eye. Amanda also told me that, like many people with autism, she wanted to interact with the entire world around her. While she could read Homer, she also wanted to rub the papers across her face and smell the ink. If she saw a flag blowing in the wind, she might start to wave her hand like a flag.  She rides in a wheelchair because she has a diagnosed problem with her motor skills. But she also says balancing herself while walking takes up too much energy for her to also type and communicate. To an outside observer, the behaviors would seem eccentric, even bizarre. Because Amanda was able to explain them, they all of a sudden made sense.

In case you were curious, there is no possible way that I was being fooled. I checked what Amanda was writing and saying over and over again. I spent time alone with her, so she could not get any visual cues from other people in the room. It was Amanda, herself, communicating with me through this technology.

It really started me wondering about autism. Amanda is obviously a smart woman who is fully aware of her diagnosis, and quite frankly mocks it. She told me that because she doesn't communicate with conventional spoken word, she is written off, discarded and thought of as mentally retarded. Nothing could be further from the truth. As I sat with her in her apartment, I couldn't help but wonder how many more people like Amanda are out there, hidden, but reachable, if we just tried harder.

I am a neurosurgeon, who has spent a large portion of my life working in the field of brain disease and disorders, and Amanda Baggs opened my eyes about the world of autism.

Programming Note: Watch "Finding Amanda" an Anderson Cooper 360 special report with Dr. Sanjay Gupta, at 11 p.m. ET.

Editor’s Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation. 

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soundoff (143 Responses)
  1. Dawn Winkler

    Dr. Gupta:


    It has been reduced, not removed. We had supposed mercury free vaccines tested and they contained mercury as well as astronomically high amounts of aluminum, which enhances the toxicity of mercury.

    Dawn Winkler
    Executive Director
    Health Advocacy in the Public Interest (HAPI)

    April 2, 2008 at 14:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Tom Thompson

    I find several statements, simple but very explanatory, really helpful in learning to deal with autistic people. I know several and they are exactly as described above. In the future perhaps I need to open my eyes to what they might be seeing, and I am missing, when trying to communicate. I think it was the Homer and flag comment that struck me so deeply, and realizing I obviously have been missing a lot that they see in the environment. Thanks

    April 2, 2008 at 15:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. James Frostick

    Thank you CNN for bringing awareness to Autism. If we don’t find why this is happening very soon every family across the world will know about Autism first hand. My 15-year-old Grandson has Autism, 15 years ago it was even harder to diagnose. If my daughter was not in special education her sisters child would of went longer with a wrong diagnose.

    The one treatment that I feel that works best is a lot of love and understanding. My grandson would not go to sleep at night when he was little; we would have to walk him for hours to get him to sleep. We found if we played music while walking him and talking softly reassuring him that everything was ok he would eventually fall asleep, this was always a long ordeal many nights we walked him till 3:00 or 4:00. My son-in-law and daughter and grandson lived with us because of the extra care that was needed for this, four caretakers is the minimum needed to give proper care.

    Another thing we found is you have to keep him away from large groups of people birthday parties you could not sing happy birthday with out setting him off. Although he enjoyed making a list of presents and sending each person what he wanted them to get him. And he loved to open them up. One birthday he opened a present that he did not ask for and he said “Hay I didn’t ask for this” He was a little indigent and could not figure out why he received something he did not put on his list.

    He is a brilliant child and loves Disney moves he has memorized every part in every move. And he would play one part or another when he would view a move. He is quite the artist I hope he could find a vocation that would allow him his artistic side to be used.

    He has forefathers that fought in the Civil War, WWI, WWII, and I know they are turning over in their graves because of their sacrifices for their Country, because American Insurance Co. are turning their backs on their future generations, after all that’s what they fought for is their Children’s, Children’s, Children. Shame on the money grabbing insurance co., shame on our elected officials for letting them get away with this violation of Autistic Children’s rights.

    The only way to make sure every body gets the insurance they need is to make all insurance co. not for profit organizations. That would change them from a business to a service. Instead of worrying about their bottom line they would worry about us, the Americans, not the dollars.

    Keep up the good fight

    April 2, 2008 at 16:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Phyllis Turner-Brim

    I have a ten year old autistic son. When ever I see these stories, specials and documentaries about living with austim, I notice that people of color, particulary African-American people, are conspicuously absent. As an African-American family with an autistic member we feel left-out, forgotten, only a footnote in the autism story. Why is this? I've been watching many of the interviews and specials that CNN is doing about autism, and again, few or no African-Americans. I wish you would consider showing the full spectrum or this spectrum disorder.

    April 2, 2008 at 16:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Patricia Max

    Dr. Gupta,

    Although some have ruled out immunizatons as a cause for autism, I find it very difficult not to believe that some combination of immunizations could be the trigger in those children who are genetically susceptible. The rising increase is an indication that some combination of events is the trigger, and what has increased is the number of required immunizations children must have. It seems to me that environmental issues would not be a trigger since I have never seen any reports that suggest that autism is limited to certain locales. Rather it seems to be widespread throughout the world

    Many questions come to mind. Are all infants and children being vaccinated with vaccines from a single manufacturer or are there multiple vaccine manufacturers? Has anyone done a spreadsheet or other computer analysis to compare age of vaccination, manufacturer, and side effects? Has anyone done a statistical analysis of children whose parents refuse, for religious reasons, to have their children vaccinated to compare the autism rate in those children to ones who are vaccinated? Has anyone compared vaccines from 30 years ago to the ones of today to identify chemical differences?

    We have no one in our immediate family is autistic so we have never experienced what families of autistic children experience. However, besides the critical need to discover the trigger(s) that causes autism to prevent more children from becoming autistic, the financial implications of so many children needing special education to become productive citiizens is overwhelming. The search for the trigger(s) must be accelerated.

    Thank you.

    April 2, 2008 at 21:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Lyn Dee Osburn

    In 1993 at 18 months my son had his MMR vacine. It was a "hot lot"
    meaning they had many complaints with the lot number of the vacine.
    He was diagnosed with autism less than a year later.
    He also has severe dyspraxia, which is poor motor ability and what is talking other than motor. And because of this all the testing they did
    was to his talking and motor ability. They all said he was mentally retarded. He's not. He learned to read and spell and type on a keyboard. His writing is really coming along too. His academics are at peer level. He is fully communicative and conversational on the keyboard. He can say some thing, but it is alot easier to speak in words. He has a wonderful sense of humor, loves nature, loves
    his family and friends; but he doesn't like the autism. He wants to talk desperately. We are working on that too and you know, he will.
    By the way, we never implemented the diet – he eats great food.
    We did implement intensive behavioral and sensory programs.
    We'll never give up on him.
    Another accomplishment, my "typical" daughter is graduating from
    High School first in her class and going into medicine to study
    Thank you CNN.
    It's about time.
    Lyn Dee Osburn
    In Oregon with very little in services for our children.

    April 2, 2008 at 22:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. P White

    The "Finding Amanda" piece on Anderson 360 tonight was AWESOME and very educating. I have a medical background, but it still changed everything I thought I knew about autism and how autistics communicate with and understand the world around them. Please eventually post this broadcast on the Web so everyone can see it again!!

    April 3, 2008 at 00:01 | Report abuse | Reply

    I have seen many films/documentaries in my life. FINDING AMANDA is the most incredible film I have ever seen.

    April 3, 2008 at 00:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Tami Wells

    I am watching the CNN special "Finding Amanda". Amanda's movements make me want to revisit my physics class. She is definately in touch with vibrations and sudden movement of objects. My senses are not that polished.

    Amanda is brilliant and merely investigating/experiencing life in a more intricate way than me. Amanda's language, when understood, will contribute greatly to science inquiry and the true meaning of life processes. As a scientist, I could really advance my research if I had her ability.

    I admire Amanda's strengh and willingness to educate us about autism. She is my super hero!

    April 3, 2008 at 00:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Dori

    Thank you Dr. Gupta for showing a small slice of Amanda's life. My son was just diagnosed with Asperger's, and it has been a difficult few weeks. To me he is my son, and his behaviors are a part of him. My favorite part of the show was watching Amada's explanation of her 'Happy Dance.' My son does the exact same thing, and when the Psychiatrist asked him 'why?' he stated that he was happy. After watching this show, I felt that by removing this type of 'arm flapping,' that it would be removing HIS way of experiencing and displaying happiness.

    Again, thank you, Amanda, for allowing me to see you...as YOU are!!!!


    April 3, 2008 at 00:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Lynn Murakami

    I just finished watching the special about Amanda Baggs, and am inspired by her courage to "speak out" for those that don't seem to have found their voice. I have three teenagers, two who have recently come across with a late diagnoses of Asperger's Syndrome. They are both very high functioning individuals, but I haven't found all of the resources I am looking for to make ends meet, and cover all of their medical expenses. But by watching such an amazing person like Amanda, I know that I will find my way, and be able to give my kids all that they need to be successful adults.

    April 3, 2008 at 00:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Lisa Kirkland

    What an outstanding documentary! Listening to the thoughts and wit of these wonderful people left me wishing for more. How much brighter our world would be if we could reach past the barriers and reap the benefits of such unique minds. People like Amanda, Temple Grandin, and others have succeeded in enlightening those of us without autism. I hope to hear more from them all.

    April 3, 2008 at 01:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Adriana Rosales

    (Finding Amanda- report )was one of the most educational programs I've ever seen. I am very happy that we have reporters like you Dr. G. and Anderson that care about the issues most of us care about and want to know more about. This report opened my eyes to the real Autisim problem and made me want to know more and help- Im not sure how I can help but I can start by treating people with Autisim with respect and like "normal" human beins- Thanks for this report it was done beautifly-

    April 3, 2008 at 01:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Rhonda

    Thank you CNN for bringing more information, helping people to be more aware whate autism is. I have worked with severely disabled children since 1980 and the school I have worked in includes autistic children, who are each very unique.

    Amanda gave me some very unique ideas about the students I work with. I truly appreciated that. I am always willing to learn more. She has helped me to understand them even more. That is so awesome because they do not have the communication skills she does, we work on communication in various ways with our students, but it takes time with them.

    I know something has to be causing the terrible increase in autism, there has to be a reason for it and the more I hear about it, it sounds the the vaccines truly might be the problem and do need to be changed. I love the children I work with, but I do feel for the parents, it's not easy for them and if this is being caused by something tat can be changed so it's not a problem for our children, we need to stop messing around and make the needed changes.

    Keep up the great work CNN !

    April 3, 2008 at 02:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Grace

    I have and am being treated for a low-grade viral encephalitis by an infectious disease clinic. I noticed that I felt like I was somewhat autistic. Language actually has fallen out of my head at times, where I was unable to form any words in my mind, but could still think in another non-verbal way. Other times unable to get words from my mind to my mouth. It's a very strange thing. It's kind of like those stories you hear about people being awake under anesthesia but unable to communicate or move.

    I have also noticed that I have an easier time typing rather than speaking. As well as having trouble looking people in the eye especially while talking. Alongside with this, I feel like I have also developed more genius in other specific areas.

    We know that things like encephalitis and brain injury can cause all sorts of strange cognitive and psychiatric symptoms and conditions. I remember studying in a psychology and neuroscience class about things such as Broca's area and Wernicke's area, and the speech and language problems from damage to them. And there's also a part of the brain that controls getting the speech to physically move the mouth. At times I have felt that these parts of my brain are being affected. I have had incorrect grammar, wrong words, slurred speech, and at times felt unable to speak.

    It's not a far stretch of the imagination to think that there might be something similar going on to cause autism.

    April 3, 2008 at 03:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Joh Smith MD

    I am outraged that a new organization such as CNN allows such misnomers to continue to spread.
    I speak as a father, a scientist and a pediatrician... mind you I became a pediatrician to help children... instead of becoming a plastic surgeon who work on people like Ms. McCarthy for pure cash.
    There has been no scientific evidence showing any relationship between autism and vaccination. One of the best studies refuting the connection between vaccines and autism was preformed in one of the Scandinavian countries where there is social health care ... allowing medical records being available on majority of the population. A population that has the one of the least Genetic variability as compared to the United States (secondary to our diversity.) The rates of Autism was the same for pt who were vaccinated vs. those who opted out of vaccinations.
    Unfortunately in our country some parents, actually most do not want to face the most obvious cause of Autism.
    The GENES they (as in Case of Ms. McCarthy) passed on to their children. It is great to pass on the blame to vaccination... which through out this century a have save numerous lives of children (too many to quantify).
    I care for health of children deeply... whether they a minor cold, autism or childhood tumors. I am truly sorry that her child has autism, but to spread falsehoods is not the cure to autism.
    To care for children in our country and to give to research for childhood disease is the answer. The amount of money spend on pediatric disease research in our country is dwarfed by the money spent in adult research... and even more by our many other spendings.
    If Ms. McCarthy truly cares for her child and well fare of other children, she should come to grips with the fact that her son has Autism, it is no ones fault, and to help gather public support for Scientific research. Otherwise by spreading her falsehoods, she can cost the life of many children to be cut short when they end up contracting one of the childhood diseases that the vaccines would help to protects.

    April 3, 2008 at 03:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Sandi Harrington

    Thank you Amanda and Dr. Gupta,

    Thank you for your special on autism, for we certainly need
    as much light shed on this puzzling condition as possible.

    And Amanda, you appear autistic and very intelligent, not
    retarded. Thank you very much for allowing us time into
    your life so there can be a much broader understanding
    of both this condition and the intelligence of individuals
    that need to communicate in a different fashion.

    I applaud your courage and desire to educate the world so
    that the medical community and neurotypical world can better
    understand us, and those of us on the autism spectrum can
    better understand ourselves. We need this awareness urgently.

    Oh, and Phyllis is quite right. The stories of all need to be shared. Perhaps her ten year old son's story can be shared, as well.

    April 3, 2008 at 04:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Geraldine Robertson

    Nonverbal autistics have been communicating for years. For some reason, their words are generally ignored in favour of second hand opinions and speculation.

    David Eastham is the first autistic author I know of. Sue Rubin is well known and Lucy Blackman has the best book about autism that I have read.

    For readers who are interested in this topic:
    Language is More than Speech: A Case Study
    Morton Ann Gernsbacher, Ph.D.

    Autism Rocks!!

    April 3, 2008 at 05:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Mary

    Dear Dr. Gupta:

    Amanda's story is very inspiring. I do have a couple of questions about the growing number of adults who are being diagnosed with autism.

    Do they feel that their symptoms have worsened somehow into adulthood – making their autism more obvious to the medical community? (I am concerned that the vaccine debate may be ignoring the possible effects of vaccines not just on children but on adults as well.) The shot most frequently given to adults, the flue vaccine, contains thimerisol; another, tetanus, also contains thimerisol (per Jenny McCarthy's doctor on Larry King last night).

    This number could also be skewing the statistical results of vaccine studies, masking detection of a possible connection. If autism in adults is not being triggered in adulthood, but is present (but undiagnosed) in childhood, detecting the real rate of increase should be as simple as breakding down the known autistic population into age groups and comparing the number against all the births in those age groups. This would compensate for the increased ability to diagnose autism, since the older categories would include all the individuals diagnosed later in life under the newer criteria. If the number of current babies diagnosed with autism is significantly higher, this would represent (or at least be closer to representing) the real increase over time. If their is no difference, either diagnostic criteria have changed significantly enough to account for all of the difference or something is triggering the development of autism into adulthood (possibly vaccines).

    Has anyone produced statistics that take these adjustments into account? Is anyone considering studies along these expanded lines? When my son was diagnosed, I was told the rate of autism was 1 in 15,000.. That was only 17 years ago. Is the "rare" mitochondrial disfunction detected in Sarah Poling as "rare" as autism was believed to be only a short time ago?

    April 3, 2008 at 07:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Elyse Bruce

    What a wonderful article about Amanda Baggs and autism.

    My soon-to-be 13 year old son was diagnosed with Autism when he was a pre-schooler and because I didn't grieve appropriately enough for the medical community, I was told I was obviously in denial.

    Just as James wrote, the one treatment that works best is a lot of love and understanding. I would also add that embracing your child for who he or she is goes a long way to being able to find a mode of communication that works between the child with Autism and the parents.

    I am annoyed when people insist that thimerosal and mercury are responsible for Autism when it has been proven repeatedly and in many countries that this is not the case. That there are more cases being diagnosed now than ever makes sense.

    We have better diagnostic abilities than ever before which means misdiagnoses happen less often than it did even 5 years ago. And since we know that if a person with brown eyes marries another person with brown eyes, the probability of having a child with brown eyes is more likely than if neither person has brown eyes.

    That school boards and government departments and non-profit agencies oftentimes do not provide the services and supports to which individuals and familes dealing with Autism are entitled is a fact. But it's the families and friends of individuals with Autism that keep holding these same school boards and government departments and non-profit agencies accountable.

    The article by Dr. Gupta shows how open Dr. Gupta and it's people like Dr. Gupta that are open to seeing things in a different light thereby challenging negative stereotypes. Way to go!


    April 3, 2008 at 07:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. joelle

    Autism is not a brain disease or brain disorders.What does it means:Amanda opened my eyes about autism?
    Vaccines has nothing to do with autism ! Why you don't go to people completaly out of their autism.Stephen Shore said (it was on the progam 'insight' CNN/intl.y.ago) the best way to help children is to give them at the age of 2-3 (when ""diagnosed""-don't understand why parents don't see right a way that their children don't communicate in normal way!!sometimes).
    A English man (BBC) out of his autism says:autistic people doesn't make eye contacts because they put themself in place of the person(empathy).
    To understand an autistic child,you don't have to explore its brain or try to find a gene,or to observe its behaviours....you have to listen its HEART .

    April 3, 2008 at 08:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. joelle

    ....to give them at....a "life" as normal as possible .(social life,normal school)

    April 3, 2008 at 08:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Jennifer - Michigan

    Dr. Gupta,
    I found your report last night "Finding Amanda" very interesting. I wasn't aware that people with Autism could express their feelings at all. To me it was facinating to actually hear her expressing herself with words that we could understand. Her insight was eye opening. The human mind is one of the greatest mysteries. Great story.

    Also, I really enjoyed your book Chasing Life. Thanks for all you do.

    April 3, 2008 at 09:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Char Brandl

    Amanda, Dr. Gupta and friends at CNN: Thanks for a wonderful program (and for a whole day of wonderful programming). I know there are many, many more stories to be told. Keep them coming!

    April 3, 2008 at 09:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Beti

    Dear Dr Gupta,

    let me start by saying that CNN's reporting on the first World Autism Day yesterday about autism and its various dimensions was much more comprehensive and thoughtful than I expected. I thank you and CNN for that and wish that you continue to focus on this topic throughout the year.

    However, while bringing the stories of these wonderful families and children to the forefront, please do not neglect the "politics" of autism.

    Please keep in mind that the Center for Disease Control, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the vaccine manufacturers have been less than truthful, transparent, and consistent about mercury (thimerosal) in vaccines.

    In my humble opinion, your hopefully independent reporting on this subject in the future would benefit from the following:

    1) If you haven't read "The Evidence of Harm," please do so. Do not rely on secondary accounts of it. Please be in constant touch with excellent investigative journalists in this area like David Kirby and Dan Olmstedt. That would help with thinking outside the box. I have a background in journalism, both in print and visual media, and I come from a family full of doctors, so I know that journalists and doctors too could sometimes be hostage to familiar paradigms.

    2) I would like to see more emphasis on the mercury – autism link than the vaccine – autism link. I'm glad that you acknowledge the limited number of toxicity studies with respect to mercury's effects on brain development. I would like you to emphasize the need for more toxicity studies. Your audience needs to know that mercury is the second most toxic substance for the human nervous system and according to the World Health Organization, there is no such thing as "safe" amounts of mercury.

    3) I would also like to see an honest acknowledgment of the methodological flaws and the conflict of interest in the 15 or so epidemiological studies that the CDC and the AAP love to cite. People need to know that most of these studies are not reliable and they need to know why.

    4) I also would like to see more investigation into how vaccines are manufactured. Such an investigation may show that heavy metals, including mercury, continue play a role in the manufacturing process, even if they're not used as preservatives; that manufacturers do not have to declare what goes into the manufacturing process, unlike the ingredients; that supposed "mercury free" vaccines still contain variable amounts of mercury; and that flu vaccines contain thimerosal and are regularly recommended for pregnant women and newborns (but, ironically, eating fish more than once a week is not recommended for pregnant women).

    5) I would like the media to stop talking about an "underlying mitochondrial dysfunction" in the Hannah Poling case. There's nothing more misleading than talking about an underlying condition of any kind, when throughout the 1990s newborns received their first thimerosal containing vaccines in the form of Hep B six, sometimes as short as two, HOURS following birth. Is mitochondrial dysfunction a cause or an effect? It's in the interest of HHS to say it's a cause. That's not a determined fact, but a convenient opinion.

    6) I would like to see more attention to aluminum and formaldehyde in vaccines; more attention to the fact that Hg-free vaccines are usually not freely available to the public; and more respect to sound recommendations that advocate delaying vaccinations until the immune system matures; using non-toxic materials in the production process; spreading vaccinations over time (yes, that will mean more visits to the doctor that the insurance will have to pay for); and reconsidering how many of these vaccines are truly necessary for a newborn (Hep B comes to mind), no matter how expensive these changes might end up being for manufacturers and insurers.

    Thank you for your time.

    April 3, 2008 at 11:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Michelle

    My 17 year old son was diagnosed at 30 months of age when a neurologist requested a psychological assessment after having 4 grand mal seizures and other difficulties. The doctor who did the assessment came to our house first thing in the morning so that my son was comfortable in his own environment and alert. As she was testing him I asked her 2 questions. The first question was if my son had autism, she said he had signs of autism. The next question was if he was mentally retarded, she said that he had signs of it. I've been asking doctors of different qualifications those same 2 questions and never getting an answer. My son does the "happy dance" all the time, he has a limited vocabulary and just wants to help everybody. I have 2 daughters that do not have any disabilities. I loved that Amanda was able to show me what my son could do to better himself. Thank you CNN and Amanda very much.

    April 3, 2008 at 11:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Cathy

    I have a son with Asperger's Syndrome and another with High Functioning Autism. They are both very verbal, if anything too much so, in which actually causes them to have a harder time with peer relations. They both had vaccines prior to 2001. I'm not sure the vaccines were the antecedent to their PDD, it may have played some role, but probably not actual cause. I say this because I see traits of PDD (pervasive development disorder or the spectrum) on both mine and my husbands families-brothers, cousins, grandparents,ect.

    Yet having worked in schools, I see, in addition to autism, a lot of children from seemingly normal, intelligent parents being plagued with ADD/ADDH, Specific Learning Disabilities such as dyslexia or dysgraphia, depression, anxiety and even bi-polar. These issues were unheard of when I was in school in the 70's and 80's. Is it that possibly vaccines and other carcinegins in our environment are seriously reeking havoc with infant/toddler development and jumpstarting any sort of predisposed ailment that may lie in their genetic blueprint?

    Having been an Advocate and Parent Support Group facilitator for families with special needs children, as well as having worked for two years with persons with Tramatic Brain Damage, I wonder, do some of these kids suffer from genetic autism kickstarted by toxins, while maybe others suffer from a form of Brain damage or brain alteration
    due to the same toxins that ultimetely mimic the symptoms of

    What about children from different countries that get different vaccines and vaccine schedules? Are these children developing Autism at the same rate as the in US?

    And last I really wish people in the media would please stop reffering to autism in such derrogotive language as though these kids are deranged and we poor parents are victims. For one thing when the TV or radio is on these AUTISTIC CAN HEAR YOU! Many children with PDD are high functioning and they get what you are implying. Autism is not a punishment to me or my husband, actually it's been a gift. For if it were not for these two boys I would never have been given the opprotunity to see just what is truely beautiful and worthy in this world.
    I feel sorry for all the other parents of typically developing children because the true meaning of life just seem to go right over their heads!

    April 3, 2008 at 12:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Jack C. Crosswell

    I have sent the followering letter to CDC:

    April 1, 2008

    [Fax number removed]

    Dr. Julie Gerberding, Director
    1600 Clifton Road, NE
    Atlanta, GA 30333

    I want to suggest one possible cause for the increase in the number of autistic children.

    I have an autistic adult daughter who was born in 1956. At that time I think that the incident of autism was one in ten thousand. Most pediatric doctors had never heard of it. My theory is based on my experience with my austistic daughter who is now 51 years old.

    I suspect common cold medications taken by mothers during pregnancy.

    Why I suspect this:

    During the pregnancy of my daughter born in 1956 and my son in 1959 the mother’s obstetrician prescribed amphetamine tablets for her feeling of tirednesss. The PDR during this period only contraindicated amphetamines for pregnant women during the first trimester. My daughter has been autistic since about 4 years old and my son has been schizophrenic since age 18. A number of psychiatrists have indicated that they thought the amphetamines could have caused their illness. I suspect the doctor who prescribed this medication is now deceased.

    Cold medications such as Sudafed contain a drug that keeps the antihistamine from making the patient drowsy. This drug is an altered amphetamine. Illegal drug dealers have a way of extracting the amphetamine to make the illegal street drug. My conclusion is that a pregnant woman taking a cold medication is getting a dose of amphetamines.

    I am 77 years old but I have good memory for details regarding my children’s illnesses. I will be glad to talk to anyone doing research on this.

    Jack C. Crosswell
    [address removed]

    P.S. I saw you and Dr. Gupta on CNN yesterday. That stirred me to write this letter.

    Copy: Dr. Sanjay Gupta

    April 3, 2008 at 12:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. James Wahlstom

    As a father of a daughter with Aspergers and a Special Education teacher I have really enjoyed your specials. What I would like to see however is a story on the fears and worries of parents that wonder what will happen to their child when they are no longer around to take care of them. My daughter is an only child and her parents both teach school. Because of early medical bills we weren't able to save the amount of money we would have liked for her future. At this point (she is 22) we realize that there is no way we can leave enough money in a trust to make her life even what she enjoys today (which isn't much compared to a normal 22 year old). While she does draw Social Security that won't even start to pay her bills let alone allow her to have Internet and TV which is what her life revolves around and gives her pleasure. I think that your stories, while fantastic, may have put a spin on Autism that isn't quite the norm. Not all Autistic kids/adults have the capacity to function in a job setting and neither do they have families with the income to support them for life. There is not a day, make that an hour, that it doesn't cross my mind. I know there are many, many families that share these same fears.

    James Wahlstom

    April 3, 2008 at 12:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Reader

    Lyn, why don't you implement the diet? It doesn't matter whether you feed him "great" food, that is not the issue; gluten is gluten and casein is casein and they are not usually tolerated well in autistics. A healthy typical diet still has loads of gluten and casein. Don't you want to exhaust every possible avenue to help your son recover? I just don't understand parents who dismiss the diet as it has greatly helped so many.

    One of my professors has 30 year-old autistic son whom she brought to class one day. He stood in the doorway for an hour and a half (he didn't feel a need to sit down), flapping his arms incessantly while sipping a Coke and eating the remainder of a Big Mac. Obviously she knew nothing about diet intervention... it really just saddens me.

    April 3, 2008 at 12:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. maria

    – given what has been in the news about this girl in Atlanta who won the compensation for her autism triggered by vaccines...does anybody has any idea if her case is the example for other families with kids with autism disorder and, how to go about proving the same for other cases of autism?
    thanks for your help!

    April 3, 2008 at 13:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. charlotte organes

    Re: autism What is being done during pregnancy now that was not being done when autism was rare? In 1980 when I was pregnant ultra sound was beginning to be used. My OBGYN refused to do them because he said they could cause cellular damage. At that time autism was virtually unheard of. Now ultra sounds are being used more and more and autism is rampant. I recently went for a ultra sound on my heart. I mentioned this to the technician and he felt it was possible that the sonograms could be damaging and explained to me about "bubbles" forming in cells from the high frequency sound waves, I'm not a scientist and did not understand much of what he said. He did not allow his wife, when pregnant, to have any sonograms, and that says a lot. Remember, how long was it before we realized the damage X-rays could cause. Could the sonograms cause some damage to the unborn baby that can be later triggered? The timing of the use of sonograms and increase in autism just might be more than coincedental. Please look into this possibility.

    April 3, 2008 at 14:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. Janet

    I truly enjoyed the program. I saw Amandas video on You Tube several months ago. My daughter watched it with me. She was very quiet and very still through the entire movie. My daughter has Autism. She was first diagnosed with PDDNOS at age 18mths. The final diagnosis came at age 5. She has trouble speaking. Some words and phrases are clear, but most are not. I have been trying to locate a communication board or a program for my existing laptop for her to use, but have been unsuccessful. Can anyone help?

    As some of the other parents have already voiced, my school district does not have the necessary services to properly educate my daughter. I can remember when she first started school and had her first evaluation. They immediately presumed she was mentally retarded because she could not speak. They still tell me "she has the mind of a 5 y/o." She is 15 y/o and is alot smarter than they think or give her credit. She likes science, discovered this year because they didnt think she could do it. She has a fantastic memory. Knows every Disney movie, front to back, she has ever seen and loves to sing every song. High School Musical is her thing right now.

    Lots of love and hugs are very important. Kisses are necessary also, but on her terms. You can only give kisses to her face or forehead and only if it is OK with her.

    About the immunization link, I am not truly sure. I believe my daughters autism is genetic. In her Fathers family, she has 2 cousins with autism. Both are severe. They belong to her uncle. She has another uncle, but he has no natural children. She also has 2 Aunts. Their children have no symptoms of autism. From this, I believe what someone else said about it being passed through the male children. There is no autism in my family history, only ADD and dyslexia. I also have a suspicion that her many ear infections at a very early age was the trigger. She was very active, held eye contact, hold her arms out to me as a baby and then she was gone, She had chronic ear infections for months. Continuous visits to the Pediatrician with antibiotic treatments never cleared the problem. Finally went over my Doctors head and took her to a ENT. Had tubes placed and adenoid removed. The infections stopped.

    Another thing, get a Doctor who will listen to you and your concerns. Her Pediatrician at that time told me "everything is OK, She wil grow out if it." I got so tired of this that I changed my childs doctor. He absolutely would not listen to me.

    Well I could rattle on forever but I dont want to bore anyone. Again, thank you very much for the story. I learn something new about Autism daily.

    Thanks for your time,

    April 3, 2008 at 16:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. Char Brandl

    Quick suggestion for those of you who enjoyed Amanda's story. If you haven't already seen it, check out the documentary "Autism is a World," which tells Sue Rubin's amazing story. It's been shown on CNN several times and should be available at most major public libraries in the U.S.

    April 3, 2008 at 17:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. MaryRuth E.Smith

    I am so grateful to CNN for their all day special on Autism April 2nd.
    Although I was not able to watch the whole day, what I did see and
    especially enjoyed was the Noon hour story of CNN families telling
    their stories. This segment deepened the meaning of all the other
    segments as CNN employees showed their participation with Autism which went way beyond the usual observation and reporting. Thank you to each and all of the families.
    Our daughter and son in law have worked tirelessly with and for their now eight year old son with Autism. Micah brings daily needs along with incredible joy to his whole family and we are grateful for all of his hard earned progress. But O the cost to the family in dollars and tears. CNN helping to put Autism upfront without squashing any of the debate was fantastic. I love you, Larry King, and your "Cohost"
    Jenny McCarthy. May God continue to bless all those on the front lines
    as well as those who stand behind with their tears and continued prayers for those whom we know with Autism and the one in 166 babies that are born this hour who will be diagnosed with the disease.

    April 3, 2008 at 18:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. Deb

    I myself have an 18-yr old Autistic child who will not make eye contact or speak too often, and especially not in sentences. Reading Amanda's story has given me more insight on his reactions and the manner in which he does things on a day to day basis. I wish there would have been more information available when he was younger, as there is now, but thank God there is now for the next generation of Autistic children. I still read everything I can about Autism, but I also have two other children who need my attention and love. My days are very busy. Everyone give Autism the attention it needs for future generations of children and adults and have patience and understanding with them.

    April 3, 2008 at 18:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. Ellen Prewett

    My name is Ellen Prewett, I am a mother and a nurse. I have been following all recent news reports regarding the rapid increase in the diagnosis of autism, especially the onset of symptoms of autism in conjunction with the timing of childhood vaccinations. The only relationship that is discussed on the news is the vaccine preservative Thimerosol, that the government is saying has been deleted from the vaccines.

    I have thought and thought about this relationship between the timing of the vaccinations and the onset of autism, and I wonder if there is just something in the immune system response of the children that is the trigger. Fifty years ago there were not nearly so many vaccines – and as they became available, we as children received them. Now they are all given to the little babies and toddlers – so so many of them all in the first year and a half of life, some of them multiples of different vaccines at one visit. In the 80's I believe 10 vaccines were given by age 18 months – now the numbers reach something like 23 – sorry I am not sure of the exact numbers. I do know the names of some that have been added – chicken pox vaccine, hepatitis b, hib, rotavirus – and it looks like to me that instead of making new schedules, they are lumped into already established groups of vaccinations. For instance, adding the chicken pox vaccination to the measles, mumps, rubella vaccination. What's wrong with giving them one at a time? One a month till they're done, or something like that. To my way of thinking, four major diseases like that all given to the child by way of a shot, into their little bodies, is a huge stress, and has to cause the immune system to go wild.

    Now, I am not a researcher, but somehow this does not seem quite right to me, to artificially subject human babies to this massive onslaught of parenteral disease – even though some of the vaccines are not live, or they are attenuated, they still bombard the immune system. How do we know that this substantial increase in numbers of vaccinations is not a cause of autism?
    To my mind, there is simply way too much anecdotal evidence of children being perfectly normal until after they have had many of these vaccinations, and then beginning to regress, losing speech that was already there, losing social interaction that was already there -it is, as I have stated, simpl simply too much evidence to dismiss the vaccine-as-cause theory. Surely there must be a large study somewhere that is tracking all this.
    I appreciate any information you have regarding this matter.
    Thank you in advance,
    Ellen Prewett

    Thank you for listening, for reading my email.

    Ellen Prewett RN
    Giddings, Texas
    "Your trip is what you make it."
    – Ellen Prewett –

    April 3, 2008 at 22:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. joelle

    Have heard yesterday on CNN/intl. that they try to find a bacteria or a virus "to be the cause".
    WHAT 'S NEXT !!!!!!!!!

    April 4, 2008 at 07:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. joelle

    on http://www.oprah.com/community/community/health/autism?view=discussion,there is (or are) a very interesting message ( from xooma@mts.net)

    April 4, 2008 at 08:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. Ferah Wanga

    My son was diagnosed with autism at the age of 2. In his case he started talking when he was 1 year and 6 mths. His speech disappeared overnight and as a parent that was my worse nightmare. He is now 6 turning 7 and I am still hoping for a miracle. I am happy that autism is getting all this attention, in my opinion it needed to happen a long time ago. It is hard to believe that so many children are being diagnosed with autism and there is not one single cause for this epidemic. I would love to hear my son speak again. I commend all the parents out there who are dealing with autism at home, it is not an easy task. All we can continue to at this point is to love our children and continue to be their voices and source of support.

    April 4, 2008 at 10:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. MomtoPDDNOS

    I'm so tired – no I'm outraged – by our society's endless focus on the cause of autism. The feeling is frantic and fearful – we must find out what's causing autism and quickly! And the implication is obvious – we don't want any more people with autism. As the mother to an extraordinary boy who is on the autistic spectrum, I couldn't be more offended or more saddened by our current cultural climate. As long as we keep up this approach to autism, as long as the media keeps focusing on the idea that our children are "tragic" or "suffering," our children will keep getting the message that who they are is "wrong." My son will think his differences make him less worthwhile than someone without autism.

    I wish more people would actually listen to the voices of autistic adults. Many – maybe most – appreciate being autistic. They don't want to be different. The don't want to be "cured" (which is a ridiculous notion – you can't cure neurological differences). For the most part, any autistic adults I speak to who "suffer" do so only because they know – whether through their parents' frantic attempts to make them normal when they were young, or through the clear message of our culture about autism – that they are not acceptable in our society. This is the real epidemic: the terrible, bigoted fear. The fact that people have come on here saying, "Wow. I didn't know before seeing Amanda that autistic people were, well, real people!" is evidence of the harmful images we've been shown up until now.

    I'm so tired of having to defend my child's value in this world. He's happy, extremely intelligent, connected, communicative in his own way, and very very loving. So is my typical child – in a different way – but I never have to defend his right to exist and be celebrated. People like Jenny McCarthy, who puts all her celebrity power toward "curing" her son, a child who she treats as a tragedy, as someone who isn't OK – people like this are the real problem for autism. We need – more than anything – new images, a new way of talking about autism. Mostly, we need money not going to research about etiology. We need money going to schools and programs that will support and encourage autistic children and adults as they make their ways through their lives.

    April 4, 2008 at 12:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. Tee

    Thank you for educating us more on Autism! Amanda did such a great job.

    April 4, 2008 at 13:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. Reverends Tucker & Baldasaero


    STOP EATING GLUTEN – GLUTEN – The #1 cause of DEATH and DISEASE in humans.

    GLUTEN – a Latin word translated into English IS GLUE

    GLUTEN is a water-insoluble starch protein found in WHEAT, RYE, BARLEY & OATS.

    GLUTEN is present in most baked foods such as breads, pies, cakes, breakfast cereals, porridge,
    cookies, pizza and pasta. Because it is glue, ingesting gluten is detrimental to everybody's over all good health and well being.


    Gluten/glue is one of the most complex proteins consumed by man – it is extremely difficult to absorb. This is demonstrated with infant digestion: babies first introduced to solid foods are not given wheat. They are started on a thin porridge of rice because their tiny digestive tract can process it easily.

    Gluten is absorbed more quickly than meat, fish, fruit and vegetable fibers. After rapid digestion in the stomach, it coats the pancreas and villi, (finger-like protrusions which provide most of the surface area for nutrient absorption) in the small intestine with a layer of insoluble glue. This interferes with the excretion of insulin, from the pancreas and the absorption of nutrients into the muscles etc. from the small intestine. This could potentially cause diabetes.

    Insulin is an important hormone, which enables the muscles to absorb sugar (glucose), from the blood. This is how we are fed. Muscles are our meat and a reserve of energy, blood and oxygen from which we can gather strength in times of stress and to thwart disease.

    Everyone, and especially people with gluten intolerance or Celiac Disease, are unable to digest gluten – a protein found in wheat, rye, barley and oats. In fact, in Celiac this protein actually attacks the lining of the small intestine causing damage that flattens the tiny villi.

    H I S T O R Y

    School children have historically mixed water and flour to create paper mashie sculptures out of news paper, which set rock hard solid. With this in mind, couldn’t gluten/glue, when ingested, cause hardening and clogging of the arteries and other health hazards?

    We know sniffing glue causes brain damage — what happens when we eat it? Imagine non-water soluble gluten as an oil based paint as opposed to latex paint (which is water-soluble).

    Gluten, when ingested, is impossible for the body to dissolve just as it is impossible to wash oil paint from a wall with water. It is non-bio-degradable, insoluble.


    The gluten coated villi (finger-like protrusions which provide most of the surface area for nutrient absorption) of the small intestine acts as a filter, which will only allows the tiniest particles of sugar to be absorbed and pass through into the blood stream.

    Gluten obstructs the absorption of healthier and concentrated sugars needed to reach and feed all muscles, bones, tendons and organs. The smaller, easy to digest starch protein sugar, as is found in potatoes and corn immediately create fat cells and regardless how much nutritional food is consumed, there is always a feeling of starvation and the urge to eat sugar for energy shortly after eating.
    Making matters worse, these tiny particles of sugar, which manage to penetrate the wall of gluten, are then contaminated, clotting, coating and blocking the arteries with cholesterol. It leaves glue-deposits in the small capillaries and throughout the entire body.

    Possible side effects include, cataracts, glaucoma, Alzheimer’s Disease, Autism,
    intestinal, prostrate and other cancers, headaches,
    neurosis, arthritis, mental illness, ADHD, psychosis., etc. The lack of a fresh blood supply to our glue-coated capillaries is a potential risk of ill health and imminent death.

    When gluten coats the large intestine it acts like fly
    paper. This creates a sticky surface which causes waste
    material (that we are attempting to excrete) to cling to the walls of the intestine, building up over the years. This creates the potential for irritable bowel syndrome, intestinal dysfunction and colon cancer.


    Bloated stomach and intestines, diarrhea, headaches, sleep apnea, acne, boils, difficulty digesting food, tired weakened condition, irritability, quick temperament, feeling starved, urge for sugar after finishing a good meal.


    STOP EATING GLUTEN! Avoid eating foods which contain wheat, rye, barley and oats. You will feel the benefits after eating a gluten-free meal. You will feel full and satisfied, as opposed to bogged down, and bloated. Please refer to the chart on reverse side for gluten-free food suggestions.


    In the first week or two the body will be strengthened, physically, mentally and spiritually and you will lose weight and gain muscle mass. Ten to twenty pounds of water will disappear and inches from the waist line. Muscles can now grow as they are able to absorb the blood sugar and insulin they were being deprived of.

    A feeling of well being will consume the entire body, enriched with insulin, sugar and oxygen.


    WHAT THE HECK is gluten, anyway?
    GLUTEN INTOLERANCE and Celiac Disease
    HEALTH ENCYCLOPEDIA – Diseases & Conditions Celiac disease, or celiac sprue, is a chronic disorder of the small intestine caused by sensitivity to gluten, a protein found in wheat and rye and, to a lesser extent, in oats and barley. It causes poor absorption by the intestine of fat, protein, carbohydrates, iron, water, and vitamins A, D, E, K.
    CELIAC SPRUE ASSOCIATION—Gluten free recipes


    Emergency Medical Report prepared by:
    Rev. Brother Walter A. Tucker, M.D.
    Rev. Brother Michael J. Baldasaro, M.D.
    Ministry/Faculty of Health Sciences
    Church /University of the Universe
    544 Barton St., E., Ham, On. Can.
    L8L 2Z1 Voice: (905) 522-3247

    April 4, 2008 at 17:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. Moe

    How can I buy a copy of the documentary video 'Finding Amanda".

    April 4, 2008 at 18:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. linda

    I'm glad to hear the emphasis on autism in this age of time. The talk is about the child, but what about the young adults after the age of 18? Don't anybody care? My son is 21 years old and is autistic! He is one of the few that is fallen between the cracks by the system. Not all autistic adults are like Amanda, but the others badly need help. My son just sits at his adult class and not learning anything that he needs to interact with society!

    April 4, 2008 at 20:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. joelle

    Dr.Gupta, I would like your view about the family of 6 children(autistics??-see on CNN/intl.-parents Mormon),about the whole picture of it.And what does it "inspire"you as a dad,when you see one of the youngest rolling his bottle until it fall of the tabble!?
    There is something that is used as therapy here in Belgium:hyppotherapy(horses)

    April 5, 2008 at 08:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. jamie meyers

    Dr. Gupta,
    I have been watching with interest the stories about autism on CNN and I was wondering if anyone had looked into babies who were breastfed vs. babies who were bottle fed during infancy and the statistics of autism in those two groups. I haven't heard anything mentioned about that and I was wondering if there may be something in the bottle fed substances that may contribute to the condition.
    Thank you,
    Jamie Meyers

    April 5, 2008 at 09:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. Gay Aguilera

    Dr. Gupta,
    My special thanks to you and CNN on the eye opening and ongoing dialogue on Autism. I am the grandmother of a beautiful 5 1/2 year old girl, who was diagnosed with mild to moderate Autism. She is physically perfect in every way, but highly limited in her development. I see frustration on her face and in her actions when she can't process what she is hearing or is asked of her. She tries so hard to "send it back out to us" and can barley find 3 words in a row to let us know, all the while our hearts are both hopeful and broken.
    I write to you because she has 4 healthy and well developed siblings, all of whom I have been involved in their development. My little "Desi" was also developing along at the completely normal rate of a smart little 18 month old, UNTIL, she had her 3 in 1 vaccination, and within weeks, NOT MONTHS, "THE LIGHTS WENT OUT". It was almost as though a cloud came over her. You could see it in her eyes, a dimming of understanding and her developmental skills slowed almost to a stop. She continued to develope physically, but she stopped in most every other way, trying to communicate, but not able to.
    She is finally doing more, saying 3-4 words in a row, but it has taken several years, lots of special classes, both school and social skills being presented in a way she can respond to. She will never catch up to her siblings, although so completely special; as though God couldn't fix what man damaged, but helped her with a beautiful little soul.
    We pray for her every day and hope one day ,she will be able to "come through the door", but until then, her parents and I KNOW the exact time this occurred to an otherwise normal, adorable child. VACCINATIONS !
    Thank you for providing this forum.
    Sign me, "a hopeful, but heartbroken grandmother ".

    April 5, 2008 at 17:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. joelle

    Hello Dr.Gupta, Seeing again 'we have autism' (shouldn't say "have autism"-it is not a disease or a disability or a brain disorder-"to be autistic" or to have autistic behaviors as it is a non communication,a denial),I would like to ask you ,when you look at the video of the triplets family(Maryland),what do you "see"?.The same about the boy with the father working for U.N.,what do you feel?
    PS:I think I could help the triplets family,if they are interesred for a "lady au pair".?

    April 6, 2008 at 04:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. Tifferjade

    Thank you very much for making everyone aware of Amanda's videos. She did an amazing job and I thank her also for giving us an insight into her daily life as someone living with a form of autism. This topic is talked about more often, however not from their point of view. She did a fantastic job!

    April 6, 2008 at 18:47 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.