Shauna Young, Ph.D. and The Spectrum Balance Protocol
In this interview, Shauna Young, Ph.D. discusses the long-awaited “how to” book Erasing Autism: The Spectrum Balance Protocol that explains the diet that has been used so effectively on Autism and many other ASDs since 2005, and the last ten years of her life’s work in writing it with Joe Salama.
The book itself is written in an easy to understand fashion, and it explains the science behind what causes many ASDs, how to execute the diet most effectively, the foods used in the diet itself, and 26 true case studies written in a realistic and compelling style that will both enlighten and entertain.
Thank you for joining us Shauna, we haven’t done an interview in a while. Give me the elevator pitch. What’s the book about?
Dr. Young: Erasing Autism is about the past ten years of my work with Autism. In fact, June 5 was my ten year anniversary of the first child that walked in with a diagnosis of Autism, and the book is about the many, many kids that we have been able to help.
There are twenty-six actual case studies in the book, and a lot of science – easy to understand science – about why the dietary and mineral imbalance causes the autism symptoms. In a nutshell, this book is an A-Z about my Spectrum Balance Protocol.
It includes what I have seen causes the autism symptoms, twenty-six amazing stories (which were painstakingly picked to be a fair representation of all of my patients), how to fix the imbalance, the diet itself, and how to keep it from recurring.
Joe: Just to make sure I have this right, you’re saying that the autism symptoms in the patients you’ve seen were caused by diet?
Dr. Young: Correct. More specifically, by a mineral imbalance in the brain between iron and manganese, caused primarily by diet. It can be caused by other things like vitamins, or environmental exposure, but diet is typically the primary cause.
Joe: When you tell people that you have a diet that can cure MS or Crohn’s, people think you are crazy.
Dr. Young: Oh sure. Lots of people are thinking I have three heads with a tinfoil tiara on each one! For one thing, the mindset that “the kids are perfect the way they are” or that autism is “natural” in some way is incredibly strong now.
Joe: You mean the parents were resigned to accept them with their autism?
Dr. Young: That was actually the subject of a speech I gave at Paleo(f)x last April. It was called “The Kids Are Not Alright.” In a social media situation a few months ago, I had a woman from Germany who was extremely offended that I would even suggest changing her perfect son, who happened to be autistic. I asked her to do one thing for me.
I asked her to ask her seven-year-old son how he feels about it. As it turns out, he was having nightmares, paranoia, anxiety, going through hell, and she had no idea. None. When she asked him if he would be willing to change his diet, he actually said that he would do anything if how he felt could end. And so they did – and now he’s doing great.
Joe: So are you saying that the mantra “the kids are all right” is basically the parents reconciling their own emotional issues and not acting in the best interests of the children?
Dr. Young: Often yes. That and the fact that so many parents feel that they have already “tried everything” and the kids are still autistic. I know I tick people off with this, but it’s not my place to make parents feel better. It’s my place to fiercely advocate for my client. And my client is the child.
Joe: But ultimately you are restrained by the parent, right? Because they need to authorize treatment?
Dr. Young: Of course, and fairly often parents get upset with me by how I talk to them. But again, that isn’t my job – to be nice – my job is to convince them to do what I’ve seen to be in the best interest of their child. Which is the reason they came to me in the first place?
Joe: Wow. That sounds tough – of the toughest jobs I can think of, none of them involve arguing with parents about how to parent better – it sounds like every single day could be very very distressing.
Dr. Young: Yeah, it gets really difficult sometimes. It’s just that I have watched this miracle happen hundreds of times and I know what it can do, and it’s frustrating when people come up with every reason to not try it. I’ve had kids beg their parents – in front of me – to stay on the diet, and their moms are like “I don’t want to have to cook so much” or “it’s too hard.” I mean, their kid is sitting there crying and it is just brutal.
I can’t even tell you how hard that is when it happens. And some of the excuses they come up with? “Well, I read your book and in one of the case studies my child only has nineteen of the twenty symptoms you mentioned. So I may as well not do it because she doesn’t have that twentieth symptom.”
Joe: You can give people every single reason that they have to benefit. And there’s absolutely no reason for them not to try it. But they still don’t because it would be inconvenient or would represent too much of a change in their lifestyle – so they conveniently find an excuse to not even try.
Dr. Young: Exactly. It’s easier to accept something – or even celebrate something – than change it. “It’s not Autism – it’s AWE-tism!” Please.
Joe: But if that something is something that’s causing their child to have nightmares, you would think that a parent would move Mount Everest to the other side of the planet before letting that continue, right?
Dr. Young: Well that’s what I thought, and that’s why all this has come as such a shock. You know when I originally started this protocol back in 2005, and it worked on several people, enough for me to know it was going to keep working, I started to present it at medical conferences and other venues like that.
I thought it was going to be a zip-zap, and that people were going to think “So okay, I just eat this instead of this, and the symptoms…okay” and it was going to be just this simple thing. I had no idea of the amount of incredible resistance that there is to this. And especially from people that you would never expect, like grandparents. “Oh c’mon, one cookie isn’t going to hurt anything.” Wanna bet?
Joe: And resistance from the autism community – or perhaps I should say autism market – I don’t know what level of money exactly that we are talking about.
Dr. Young: Matters on who you talk to. Autism Speaks says for every child that is diagnosed by the age of two you’re looking at about thirty-five million dollars of medical expenses within that person’s lifetime. JAMA says it’s 2.4 million in additional medical expenses. Either way that’s a lot of money. Here’s something interesting.
Autism Speaks started in February of 2005, and June 5th of 2005 is when I saw my first diagnosed kid, so basically we started at the same time. In 2005 the diagnosis level was 1 in 125 which was bad enough. And now, after the millions of dollars that people have given to Autism Speaks to do research, we’re now at 1 in 68. That’s not much of a track record.
Dr. Young: It’s a shame really. People want to help, they just don’t know how or where to put their money.
Joe: So let’s talk about efficacy. How many people have you seen in those 10 years?
Dr. Young: Oh wow. Well, this would be difficult to say because we started giving the protocol away for free about eight years ago and we’ve had tens of thousands of downloads in over 70 countries.
Joe: How many confirmed reports of people trying it do you know of personally?
Dr. Young: As I said, very hard to say but it is probably… over a thousand?
Joe: That’s a pretty good sample size. Okay, so what success rate have you seen?
Dr. Young: Of the ones that I know of, it’s been insane, I mean… enormous. There have to be some people out there that it didn’t work with that didn’t tell me or something like that, but with the children that I have personally worked with? The ones who did the protocol 100% as I suggested and stuck with it? Off the top of my head, I can’t think of any that at least didn’t improve significantly. Maybe not reversed 100% of the time, but I can’t think of anybody that didn’t at least improve.
Joe: So every single person who tried it improved their autism symptoms?
Dr. Young: That I know of. And I have to say that really emphatically. Because logic would say that there’s got to be people that didn’t. But on the other hand, I also run internet searches on my name once in a while to see what’s going on, and there are so many people out there who are talking about it that I’ve never met.
There’s an entire website set up dedicated to the work that I found. People who have taken their child or themselves through the Protocol, and are talking about their success, and I’ve never met or spoken with them.
Joe: And they talk about effectiveness?
Dr. Young: Absolutely. I remember one was somebody in the Chicago area who saw their child completely recovered, but there are all kinds of stuff. And like I said I’ve never even spoken to these people.
There is one thing I’d really like to talk about because we’re skirting it right at the moment, and as I said it was the basis of my Paleo f(x) speech. I didn’t grow up in an era where people got trophies for participation. I grew up in an era where if you wanted a trophy, you better be ready to work for it.
And there is a lot of that “participation trophy” sort of mentality now that I wasn’t prepared for. I noticed a very strange thing at Paleo f(x) this year. A lot of people were talking about “doing the best you can” and “you know it’s okay if you fall off the bandwagon, just do your best” and all that kind of stuff.
So I get up on stage and start yelling “You better make your best the best. Quit making excuses. Start finding solutions” and that kind of thing at them. I said straight out “I guess I’m just the mean mommy of Paleo.” The minute I said that three twenty-something girls popped up in the audience and started clapping and cheering.
So I keep going on, and I’m being super tough with these people, and these guys are cheering. And they were mostly kids in their twenties. I couldn’t figure out why they would like the tough talk so much, but I think it’s because of a lot of them kind of lack of direction.
And they’re looking for direction. Everybody keeps telling them “Oh you’re great, don’t worry you’re fine” when they don’t feel fine. There’s a book out called… You’re Perfect and Other Lies Your Parents Tell. And it’s like… I don’t know if that is necessarily a kind thing.
I mean are you being kind in the long run to accept your child as is, or is it kinder to push them to maybe help them to reach their potential? I have a story that I rarely tell anybody and I want to tell you because I think it’s pretty relevant here.
Joe: Spill it sista.
Dr. Young: And I want people to not take this wrong because some people have thought it sounds mean, and it totally wasn’t. When I was growing up, whenever I did anything or colored anything, it went up on the refrigerator as it does for kids.
But when I got to be a little bit older, I would bring stuff up to my mom and she would look at it and she would say – you know kindly – but she’d say “Do you think this is your best work?” And I would look at it and say “No, I think maybe I can do it better” and I would go back and I would work on it again.
And then when I would bring it back and I would say “Here. This one is my best work.” And she would really look at it and say “Oh, now see? This is spectacular. This is a great job.” And I learned that if I gave it 100%, then I could get to spectacular. I didn’t have to settle for good or okay or fine. If I really worked it, I could get to the point where it was “spectacular.” And that gave me so much confidence.
She believed that I had so much potential that she purposely pushed me and I, in turn, pushed the envelope. After a while, I didn’t even bother to show her anything that wasn’t my best work. I just started there. When that happened she just stopped asking me that question. She knew. And I realized “I’m now doing my best work.”
Joe: That’s awesome.
Dr. Young: And it’s so important! This is why I can do the work that I do now… because somebody said “You have the potential and I’m not going to say that you’re just perfect the way you are. I’m going to get you to push yourself.” I think that that’s incredibly important, and I think that it’s something that is really missing now. It just feels like people get so much approval that it doesn’t mean as much.
Joe: The modern culture of parenting is focused on tolerance and acceptance rather than maximizing potential, competitiveness, and…
Dr. Young: Ambition.
Joe: Yes, ambition. My daughter’s school has that list of values – the Ten Pillars or something like that. Number one is fairness. Life isn’t fair. Number two is Respect. Respect can be good or bad depending on context and how far you take it. Citizenship. Well, that’s good.
That encourages participation. Next, are Caring, Courage, Honesty, and Responsibility. So while these are all good things, arguably, there is definitely a lack of focus on maximizing your individual potential. Integrity isn’t on there, and part of my definition of integrity includes doing the best you can possibly do. The focus is too much on the touchy-feely let’s get along and put less pressure on the child to grow in certain ways.
Dr. Young: The emphasis has become focused on the community and not the individual. If you look back in history it was the individual that most often made the difference. It was the people who questioned the system, the person that said “No, this isn’t okay, so I’m going to change it.”
Joe: Every brilliant mind throughout history was thought of as a lunatic. Okay. So. Dr. Young, I think we’ve established that you’re a lunatic.
Dr. Young: Absolutely. No question. At least we have the lunacy part down…
Joe: Let’s talk about the book again: How is it set up?
Dr. Young: It’s in a very easy-to-read fashion, which a brilliant man gave me the idea for.
Joe: You are obviously a lunatic. But thank you.
Dr. Young: I talk about the very first case that I saw, and what happened, and the process that I went through to get the idea of even researching this in the first place. It was absolutely a lunatic thing, how I chased that first one down. Then there are 25 more case studies. So what I do is talk about the science or specifics of the diet in a chapter, and then it’s followed by 5 case studies that are similar to each other. For example, my first group I call my Instakids.
The ones with all these laundry lists of symptoms, and then literally in 4 or 5 days, boom, they are responding. Another group is five of the ones I never thought I had a snowball’s chance with, either because of their parent’s attitudes, or because their symptoms were so severe, or because of whatever.
The stories in that group are pretty crazy. I tried to set them up in an easy-to-read writing style that is very much mine. Anyone who has read my first book or knows my writing style knows my, uh, unique sense of humor. I tried very hard to write it so it would make people feel like they were in the room with me.
Joe: So your regionalisms and your speaking style is preserved? So people get a sense of who you are?
Dr. Young: Yeah, exactly. And who the kids are. Even with this many children, with a really large number of them I’ve worked with, when I was going through all the case studies I could see their faces. I could hear them. I remember their hugs.
I remember them talking to me, and with some, hearing their voice for the first time after only a month of working with them. The funny things they did and said. I remember them and all of these… these… incredible things that happened, so it actually was easier for me to write in that fashion.
Joe: Okay, now you have to give me an honest answer. How many times did you cry putting that book together?
Dr. Young: Oh man. I could have filled a lake! I still cry, Joe. I just heard that one of the kids I worked with almost ten years ago – a boy that was never supposed to be able to leave his parents, is getting married. He met her at work – something else he was never expected to be able to do. News like that will definitely turn on the waterworks. I guess I’m just kind of a softy that way with, you know when it comes to these kids because of I just… yeah…
Joe: We never finished the other issue earlier: Why would you go through all that drama and all that stress and all that resistance from the parents who are making judgments on behalf of their children…why would you fight that fight for ten years?
Dr. Young: It’s so funny. I asked my brother – I was having this really bad day – and I turned to my brother and I said “Why do I do this? These people come in and ask me for my opinion, then do nothing but fight me. I’m going crazy! This is nuts!” So he looks at me for a second and says “Why do you do it? Because you can.” I guess I’m just one of those people that can’t give it up Joe.
I know that I have to try to fix these kids so they can be happier. And I know what my track record is, and… I can’t give up. Believe me, I have wanted to a thousand times. I’ve thought – please take this away from me. I’m not going to lie. There have been times that I don’t want to do it, and I don’t want to fight this fight anymore, but I have to…because I can.
There’s so much at stake here – we’re not just talking about the kids, we’re talking about an 80%+ divorce rate among parents. We’re talking about a workforce that is going to be nonexistent. We’re talking about: Who is going to lead the country and who is going to write my favorite song?
Who is going to do all of these things if all of these kids are not getting their futures? That’s the part that gets me the most because I look into these children’s eyes, and I can’t deny them their future. I want them to do all the things that all of us do. I want them to graduate from school.
I want them to get drunk and realize it was a big mistake. I want them to get their heart broken and realize that they don’t die from it, and I want them to be able to have meaningful careers and fall in love and have families and businesses and all the things that they want to do.
And every time when somebody says “My child is perfect the way they are I wouldn’t change the” it’s just… infuriating. How do you think the kid feels about it? Don’t they get a say? I know what they want because they tell me: They want to go out and have friends, and they want to see somebody other than their mom.
And the one thing that all kids have in common, that every single child has in common: They want to grow up. They don’t want to stay children forever – they want to grow up. It’s like that boy I mentioned that I worked with almost ten years ago that is now getting married. His mother had called and told me that there would have been no way that he was ever going to get out of the house.
She was going to have to take care of him forever and when she died, somebody else would have to. And now he is getting married. I guess you could say that…that right there, that one child, that’ll keep me going through a hundred more nonbelievers. A hundred more emails. A hundred more that don’t want to cook.
Joe: I can see that…and I could see that writing a book about it would be a very difficult emotional process.
Dr. Young: Oh my gosh. That was, yeah, an emotional roller-coaster. You know it’s trouble when you read your own writing and you cry. But when someone gets to get their life back…
Dr. Young: That’s the word.
Joe: Awesome. So where can people get the book?
Dr. Young: Probably the easiest place, of course, to get it is on Amazon. It’s called Erasing Autism: The Spectrum Balance Protocol and it is in paperback and on Kindle. It’s very easy to understand and it truly is an A to Z on how to do the Protocol. You can still get the Protocol itself off the No Harm Foundation website but the demand to write the book was high because I can’t see everyone, and the book can really be used much like a virtual appointment. Through it, people can feel that they are sitting at my desk with me and understand the experience.
Joe: I think the biggest part of the challenge is what we already talked about: believing that it can happen. People associate – they tend to think of autism as some form of mental retardation or something.
Dr. Young: Or a neurological disease.
Joe: Well with neurological diseases, people are starting to see that they may be curable – thanks to people like Dr. Terry Wahls, that message is getting out. People mentally classify autism in the same category as Down Syndrome.
Dr. Young: Which it is not.
Joe: As a milder form of it, or something.
Dr. Young: The weird part is that I don’t even think of it as a disease. It’s a symptom. People believe whatever they want to believe – that it’s genetic and there’s nothing they can do about it. There is a boy in the book that was diagnosed with a chromosome abnormality, which makes it sound worse, but his mom decided to give the Protocol a shot anyway and he did wonderfully. When you talk about being overweight people say “Oh well you know my whole family is that way.” Well, that’s usually because of the way that your whole family eats.
Joe: By that analysis, MS isn’t a disease, and neither is Crohn’s, right?
Dr. Young: Still symptoms. There are very few diseases. Chicken Pox? That’s a disease for you. Catch the virus and you get it. Boom. Cancer, most heart disease, MS, autism… all these are symptoms. Find the cause and get after it.
Joe: Got it. Is there anything else you want to tell people?
Dr. Young: I want to direct people to my non-profit, the No Harm Foundation.
Joe: Here’s the question you are looking for Shauna: Do all the proceeds from your book go into your pocket?
Dr. Young: Not at all. Right now we’ve got an extremely small completely unpaid staff at No Harm, so that’s where the proceeds all are right now. The problem is, is that we live in a world of social media and all of that kind of yada yada. There are things that we have to have – a decent functioning website is one example – we just barely got a new one up, and those people who do those things have to get paid.
So right now we’re trying to raise money for No Harm Foundation so that we can get some of the things that people want. I mean we get landslides of emails, and we’ve got two people answering all those emails. Some people can get upset if it takes a couple of days to get an answer to their email, but there are too few of us humans and neither of us is making any money off of it. We’re going to try a Crowd Fund and see how that goes.
Joe: Tell us a little bit about the No Harm Foundation .
Dr. Young: It was started by my brother Doug. I am actually the Medical Director, and he’s the President. After about two years we realized that even though we were getting amazing results with the Protocol, we weren’t getting anywhere with the autism world.
I had been speaking at medical conferences, calling autism specialists, doing all the kinds of things that you would think you should do, and it became very apparent that we were getting nowhere through those channels. The autism charities, the medical people that I was able to get to, we’re not interested in it.
So we decided to go directly grassroots to people. We set up the No Harm Foundation so that anyone anywhere in the world could download the protocol for free, try it on their kid, and then when it works, give us a donation as a thank you. So that’s how we set it up. Bing! Easy, right? Well, it didn’t work. We’ve had tons of people who said that they got a great result, kids are happy, thanks so much, but then we didn’t get a penny from them.
Without donations, we can’t keep helping people, so at this point in time, I’m actually working on getting sponsors. If we can get some sponsors, then we can get some of the other stuff we need in place and become a lot more effective. I was in my office today doing a radio show and somebody just called in and wanted to ask a question.
He had heard me on another radio show and decided to try the protocol on his daughter and they were having pretty good results. What he wanted to know is if there was something he could do better than he was. As it turns out, they were trying to do a primarily vegetarian version with her.
I told him “Look I’m really sorry, I know a lot of people have dietary programs that they want to do, but vegetarian is just never going to work as well.” Surprisingly, he immediately agreed to start giving her meat. “Whatever we need to do to make it happen” is how he put it. That’s my kind of parent.
Joe: That’s how I try to parent.
Dr. Young: You don’t try to parent Joe, your parent.
Joe: But I’m divorced so I can’t do it unilaterally.
Dr. Young: You just placed your finger on a very big problem within the autism community. 80%+ of marriages that have a child with any kind of disability end in divorce. Divorce is a big problem.
Joe: Well, I am happy to say that my son’s Asperger symptoms weren’t a factor in my divorce.
Dr. Young: Not in yours, no, but it’s not uncommon at all. Very often I’ve spoken with parents who are there with their new partners and afterward, I’m sorry to say this Joe but it’s usually the biological father, he will walk down the hall with the child and say “Don’t worry buddy, you can eat anything you want at my house.”
Even eating off the Protocol on the weekend will cause it to fail, so… there goes that one. I know that you’re different, but you are one of the few exceptions in my world. The reason I wrote the book Joe, one of them anyway, is because the book will make you feel something. That’s what you have to do with people.
Joe: The only thing required is for someone to approach it with an open mind?
Dr. Young: And an open heart. It’s not enough to know something with your head. If your heart doesn’t get involved, you’re kind of sunk. If you can read this book and not feel something, you need to go get your heart checked. These kids will get to you…The divorced people many times just don’t want to agree with their partner on anything, no matter what it is or how much sense it makes. But you have to put that aside when it comes to a child.
Joe: They call it “negative reactive devaluation.” Simply because the “other” side suggested it, you are immediately and completely closed to it.
Dr. Young: I just call it nonsense, but I’m glad you have a technical term.
Joe: Agreed. It’s stupid regardless of the label.
Dr. Young: We’re talking about a kid here, you know? What do you want for your kid? You want your kid to have a great life.
Joe: That type of response lacks integrity. But for most people it’s not even conscious – it’s a natural self defense mechanism after a divorce. “Well, you ruined my life so now I am going to resist everything you suggest.” Basically, it’s a convenient way for them to avoid responsibility for themselves, and now also for their children.
Dr. Young: I’ve done a lot of talking to one parent in the office and then talking to another parent or grandparent on the phone. I had a funny one with this one kid. He was thirteen with Aspergers and, wow, zero social skills. When we were discussing the Protocol he said that he was afraid that if he went on the diet and lost his Aspergers symptoms, he wouldn’t be a genius anymore.
I assured him that he would still be brilliant without his symptoms, but I actually get asked this a lot. Just not usually by thirteen-year-olds. So after completing the Protocol and ditching his symptoms, I asked him about it. He very casually said, “I’m still a genius, I’m just not annoying anymore.”
So a while after that he was staying with his grandparents in Michigan, and he calls me and says “Shauna, you need to talk to these people.” Before I could ask who he was talking about, he puts me on the phone with his grandmother and I’m like “Uh, hello?”
Boy, she laid right into me! “Who do you think you are, saying a child shouldn’t have milk or bread or cookies?” After a bit of this I said “Well, I do have a Ph.D. in Natural Sciences and am considered a nutrition expert. But aside from that, the Protocol has already helped him and he wants to stay away from things that cause him problems, so why are you forcing these things on him?” Eventually, the kid just stopped eating until they agreed. He’s a really strong young man.
Joe: Some people have such a deep level of attachment to their bread. Deeper than their own health. It’s insane.
Dr. Young: There is a case study in my book with a kid, a very young kid, who actually did the Protocol all by himself. Both of the parents said that it was too hard, so he did it by himself anyway. He’s fine now and still feels great.
Joe: I remember that case study from your book.
Dr. Young: And his parents eventually signed on and have fixed their health problems too. Yay for silver linings.
Joe: Awesome. Well thanks again for joining me Shauna. You are a rockstar, keep fighting the good fight. We have a limited time on this planet and I applaud you for using yours to help make it go round. You will always have my support.
Dr. Young: I’m counting on it. Thanks Joe.