Chiropractic treatment has transformed the life of Max Willson and his parents. Christina Hopkinson reports
Quentin Willson is not an obvious advocate of alternative medicine. This is the man, after all, who came to prominence as a presenter on that bastion of blokes, Top Gear, and named his daughters Mercedes and Mini.
He admits that until two and a half years ago, the most alternative potion he had ever taken was a vitamin C tablet. But after his taking his son Max to see a chiropractor, he has become one of the treatment’s most evangelical exponents.
“I’m startled by the difference in Max before and after chiropractic,” he says. “He has gone from being labeled autistic and needing a classroom assistant to becoming an active and feisty seven-year-old in mainstream education.”
Max was born in April, 1998 after a very difficult labor. The umbilical cord was wrapped twice around his neck as well as being knotted and, due to his heart rate slowing, he had to be delivered quickly. To add to his wife’s distress, Quentin was six hours late for the delivery. “I was stuck in the floods on the M40 with no mobile reception. Michaela thought I was dead.”
Quentin and Michaela soon noticed that Max was not developing in the same way that his elder sister Mercedes had done, seven years previously. His eyes didn’t focus, while his hand movements were more unco-ordinated that those of his contemporaries. But it was when Max went into education at four that they began to seek help. “You never want to admit to yourself that you’ve got a backward child,” he says, “but it was clear that he was very, very behind. He couldn’t concentrate, was hyperactive and demanding.” Every childhood hurdle was twice as difficult as it had been for his sister – he wore nappies until he was four, was impossible to wean from the bottle and had never slept through the night. Family outings such as visiting a restaurant or friends’ houses were impossible.
The Wilson’s consulted both state and private health professionals to try to discover what was wrong with their son and were given diagnoses including dyspraxia and dyslexia. They even began to think that Max was autistic as he demonstrated symptoms that are often associated with the disorder: he walked on tiptoes, had an obsession with soft clothes and didn’t like labels next to his skin.
They were at the point of putting Max on Ritalin, the drug that is used to treat children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorders, when they had an “almost surreal” revelation. Quentin went to pick Max up from a birthday party where “he’d done his usual trick of sitting underneath the table for two hours”. There, he met a mother who had been observing Max for the previous hour. She said that she thought his skeleton was out of alignment and that he should see the chiropractor she had used, Deirdre Edwards, who practices in Stratford Upon Avon, near to the Willsons’ home.
Chiropractic is a form of complementary medicine that uses manual spine manipulation to correct alignment and improve the function of the nervous system. Deirdre Edwards practices a type called McTimoney, which takes a holistic approach in examining not only spinal and skeletal misalignments, but also the patient’s general wellbeing and quality of life. Though deeply sceptical, the Willsons felt that they had nothing to lose in crossing yet another treatment off their list.
Deirdre remembers Michaela Willson coming into her practice with an air of resignation and exhaustion, while Max wreaked havoc in the waiting room. Deirdre put him through a range of assessments and discovered that he was delayed in several areas.
A feather touching his skin caused him to say “ouch”, and he had no sense of smell. He couldn’t stand on one leg or follow simple instructions. His eyes twitched involuntarily, he made facial grimaces, had staccato speech and licked his lips continually. But she did manage to make eye contact, which suggested to her that he didn’t have severe autism.
Once she had checked that it was safe to give chiropractic help, Deirdre began to palpate his body. “There are seven bones in the neck,” she says, “and four of his were severely misaligned, affecting the natural balance throughout the rest of his body. Even a lay person would have been able to see that Max had muscular build-up on the left side of his neck, so that it looked like he’d been lifting weights.”
Deirdre believes that this misalignment was strangling his neural cord so that Max “was twisted in such a way that the cord could not transfer messages down the body. He was lucky to be walking.” This over-firing of his nervous system was, she says, interfering with his ability to learn, in turn compromising his immune system and lead to the continual colds and throat infections that he suffered.
The Willsons remember the treatment not hurting Max at all. “It was just flicking the bones around his neck and shoulders,” says Quentin, but that night, Max slept continuously until morning for the first time since his birth, nearly five years before.
Deirdre continued to see Max about once a week for the first month, and then every 10 to 14 days. His speech, eating and abilities quickly improved to the point where he now only visits her once a month.
The Willsons are thrilled.
“He sleeps like a log and has lost all that weirdness,” says Quentin. “He no longer has a classroom assistant and we’ve taken him out of his second genteel preparatory school with five children in the class and put him into a little village state school where he’s flourishing. He’s still a bit behind because he effectively missed out on a couple of years of education, but you can reason with him and he’s reading and writing and it’s amazing. I can only put this down to the chiropractic.”
They are so convinced by the benefits of chiropractic that Quentin is determined to spread the word. “This is the unimpeachable testimony of a man who did not believe in it. We have to raise awareness, because it worked so thoroughly for my son and changed his life and ours. If I can help just one child that’s going through what we went through, then that’s my reward.”