By Gozde Bayar
ANKARA (AA) - A specialist of nuclear medicine has dedicated his life to seeking ways to defeat autism after his son was diagnosed with the neurodevelopmental disorder 18 years ago.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency in an interview on the annual World Autism Day -- celebrated internationally on April 2 since its adoption by the UN in 2007 -- Dr. Necip Cem Kinaci recounted how he switched his area of expertise to deal with autism.
"I had to give up everything just to focus on studies about autism for my son Ata," said Kinaci, who graduated from Istanbul's Capa Medicine Faculty in 1984.
Ata was born in 1999 and began showing symptoms of autism at the age of three, he said.
"When he started kindergarten, a psychologist there told us he could not maintain eye contact. We first rejected this because Ata made good eye contact with us. But, the psychologist insisted that he couldn't make eye contact with others."
"Ata was just a little introverted," he said, adding they thought his silence was due to a new foreign babysitter who was reluctant to speak Turkish.
Ata was diagnosed with autism in 2002 and began receiving treatment.
"We just burst into tears, as we were told that there was no cure for autism. But my wife searched for cures all over the world," he said. Upon research, the couple found that some children with autism had made progress through biomedical treatments, including hyperbaric oxygen therapy.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy involves the patient entering a submarine-like tube in which the internal pressure is gradually increased via external compressors -- as if diving.
In this way, the patient takes in a higher concentration of oxygen, increasing the amount of oxygen reaching the brain, Kinaci said.
After 40 sessions, hyperbaric oxygen therapy bore fruit for Ata. "He managed to begin talking again, even sometimes fluently," his father added.
Ata, now 20, is a striking success story of the therapy, after which he took an interest in computers and began spending time online. He also does his cleaning and cooking.
- 'Autism is not a nightmare'
Kinaci is also the author of a book titled Otizme Cozum Var (There is a solution to autism) which guides people on how to prevent and recover from the condition.
Kinaci has so far given consultations to more than 15,000 families from 76 countries on possible ways to treat autism.
Sharing some of his experience about false treatments, he said that sometimes Lyme disease could be confused with autism.
"I had a consultant from Germany who was diagnosed with autism. I asked him to take several tests in Turkey, including the test for the diagnosis of Lyme disease, which is spread by ticks. He tested positive for Lyme."
Emphasizing that there were still people who view autism as an infectious disease, he said: "Autism is not a nightmare."
We need to determine the reason for autism, he said, underlining that heavy metals, antibiotics and other toxic substances were thought to be among the primary causes of autism.
"I advised my patients to take heavy metal tests and found that there was an increase in one or more heavy metals in almost all of them," he said, adding that lead and mercury poisoning were the most common in Turkey.
Packaged products -- mainly fish, some vaccines, cosmetics, laundry softeners, toys, and school equipment can be sources of heavy metals.
"These toxins cause disorders in behavior, perception, informatics, and motor functions affecting all, especially children, with autism," he added.
He urged people to take preventive measures against autism, such as controlling the use of pesticides, natural fertilizers, and the production of natural foods.
Autism is a brain development disorder characterized by impaired social interaction and communication and by restricted and repetitive behavior. These signs all occur before a child is three years old.
According to estimates from Turkey's Autism Platform, which was formed by parents of children with autism, there are roughly 550,000 autistic individuals in Turkey, 150,000 below the age of 14.