Autism spectrum disorder, also known as ASD, is a form of developmental disability that is brought on by changes in the brain. People who have autism spectrum disorder (ASD) frequently struggle with social communication and engagement, as well as restricted or repetitive interests or actions.
Table of Contents[Hide][Show]
What Is Autism?
Autism is generally referred to as autism spectrum disorder (or ASD). This condition characterised by being socially detached, having impaired language & communication skills and a poor ability generally to interact socially. Autism covers a range of conditions including classic autism (hypo or low) right through to Asperger syndrome (hyper or high), and some researchers even include dyslexia within this ASD framework. ASD constitutes a syndrome (a group of signs and symptoms), meaning that each and every individual affected by ASD will not have all the same associated signs and symptoms. This is what makes it a particularly challenging condition to treat medically. Unfortunately, autistic related conditions are easily treated medically, and it appears that there are only a relatively few practitioners who can claim to have success in this hotly debated area.From a naturopathic or integrative medicine perspective, it makes no difference, because we search for and treat any underlying patterns of dysfunctions – whether it is a nutritional deficiency, a toxicity or a digestive problem.
With autism, like in many conditions which defy logic, baffle medical science and are just about impossible to treat, you will often find something underpinning the condition. There is always a cause, although it may not be apparent.
There is hope today with autism, because along with the rise in autism has come an improvement in treatment. Many individuals with autism have experienced huge improvements, and some are even recovering. There are several autism management programs now available, particularly in America, and there are various options available in NZ. Various experts have successfully advanced the management of autism to the degree that some autistic children can actually lead normal lives. Unlike in the past, autism is now actually considered a treatable condition among a growing number of functional medicine practitioners such as Dr. Bill Reeder from Hamilton, one of New Zealand’s leading practitioners in this area who are taking a bio-medical approach, and some of these cases are seeing amazing results.
An often overlooked area in autism is the health and well-being of the caregiver. These people can become literally burned out. An autistic child is a lot of work physically, mentally and emotionally. Just ask somebody who has to take care of a little boy or girl with autism. I have seen many couples over the years separate with autistic kids – and is it any wonder? All those involved in the care of an autistic child would do well to address the underlying stresses involved and spend more time working out a strategy to allow people to cope with the stresses involved in raising a child with autism. Adrenal fatigue is a common complaint experienced by many who care for a child with autism; we shall be covering this complaint in its own right in the not too distant future.
The Autism Research Institute reveals that autism was once a fairly rare disorder, affecting one in 10,000 live births. Today it is thought that around one child in every 100 has a form of ASD – the majority of those affected being boys, according to figures from the Autism NZ website. The gender ratio is almost 4:1 boys to girls, according to a leading researcher into autism. Autism has rapidly escalated since the late 1980s.vA paediatrician may have seen the odd case of autism in the 70s and 80s, today they literally see them every day in most developed countries around the world.In the United States, autism was relatively rare until the early 1990s, after which its prevalence increased by at least double if not tripled. Similar rises have been recorded in England. Dr Parris Kidd, an American scientist who researches the brain and nutrition and who has studied autism extensively, mentions that from 1987 until 1998, autism rates in California jumped 273 %. And the overall American figure from 1991 until 1997 was a staggering 556% increase. I would expect that figures are probably similar in Australia and NZ over the same period.
According to a British research paper on autism, highly analytical people such as scientists, engineers or computer people may be more likely to produce children with autism, an expert has argued. Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, of the University of Cambridge, said the phenomenon may help explain the recent rise in diagnoses. He believes the genes which make some analytical may also impair their social and communication skills. A weakness in these areas is the key characteristic of autism. I have also seen studies which mentioned that in “silicon valley” in America, an area with a high population density of computer engineers, there appears to be a disproportionate amount of autistic spectrum disorder children born to these people.
Potential Causes Of Autism
Two pioneers in autism management, Dr Sidney Baker and Dr. Richard Kunin, have listed the 6 main contributing factors in the developed societies in the past 50 years, which in their opinion are the strongest suspects which have contributed to this huge up-swing in autism around the world:
1. Increased use of antibiotic drugs generally – both in the food chain and as medicines
2. Mercury exposure by injection in infancy – the accumulation of a neurotoxin
3. The sheer increase in the number of vaccines a child has received since the 1950s
4. Increased soil depletion of trace-elements and minerals – diets today not sufficiently high in trace elements
5. Decreased Omega 3 & 6 essential fatty acids in the diet – too many bad fats, not enough good ones
6. Greater exposure to chemicals than ever before in history – we have over 70,000 registered chemicals
After having been in clinical practice for many years – I have personally not come across an autism case which was not vaccinated either fully or to some degree.
I have found it common with autistic children to have developed an appetite and/or digestive problem. Many of these children are fussy eaters, as if you haven’t noticed. They may like only a very limited amount of foods, and refuse just about everything you give them. Poor fat absorption and the bad effects of too much of one food (sugar generally) like peanut butter or a hazel nut chocolate spread, taken in daily. Many children with autism develop flatulence, bloating, constipation and/or diarrhoea.
These children may also be more prone to bacterial imbalances and could pick up all sorts of bugs making them more tired and generally a feeling of “yuk”. When in doubt, you may need to make diet changes (but go slow, these kids dislike change), and possibly treat with anti -parasitic herbs and a good quality pro-biotic. According to the Cambridge Centre for Behavioural Studies in the UK, children with ASD are prone to selective eating (Ahearn et al., 2001). During our study of the eating habits of children, a variety of foods across six meals were spread out over at least two weeks. Over half of the children we observed presented with some form of selective eating. Though the study group saw selectivity for various food groups, the food group that the selective eaters were most likely to prefer was starch.
Gluten is a constituent of many starches and restricting access to this substance can lead to eliminating the only foods that an autistic child regularly eats, so my advice is NOT to take gluten away from these children without a very good reason. Watch out for chocolate, junk or take-away foods and fizzy drinks. All are favourites with ASD kids, and it is not exactly rocket science to figure out that this kind of diet is not the best here!
Leaky Gut Syndrome
Often the digestive system has suffered stress, resulting in a “leaky gut”, which is further hindered by strange diets, medications which may be administered, depending on the prescription. A Dr. D’Éufemia has documented “Leaky Gut” to almost 43% of autistics. It makes sense for the child with autism to completely avoid dairy products (casein) for at least a period of 3 months to see what the responses are. A good probiotic is very important in this case – take one capsule (or ½ tsp powder) about twice daily. For more information, please read Leaky Gut Syndrome.
Many researchers have found a substantial amount of evidence linking autism with poor immunity. Killer cells, which are one of the top invading bugs we have, have shown a reduction by as much as 40% when sugar is eaten regularly. A couple of points here – try to get the child off sugar and sugary foods. These foods will reduce the effectiveness of the killer cells in time. Instead, give Stevia or Xylitol. It also stands to reason that the little patient needs to address any underlying food allergies, this is an area you need to work on for some time and it can make a huge difference to the child. Read Your Amazing Immune System.
Detoxification is an important issue with autism, and some practitioners who treat children with autism just specialise if detox. Heavy metals such as Mercury, Lead and Arsenic accumulate and are best immobilised from the body. You have several options here – but again I would recommend that you work with somebody experienced in heavy-metal detoxification. The three metals I commonly see elevated in autism are mercury, lead and arsenic. We also see lowered amounts of selenium, manganese (a big one for the brain) and molybdenum. I have personally seen amazing results in the clinic with a some children who underwent mercury detoxification, resulting in a big change in their behaviour over several months.
According to Professor Gillberg (Medical Therapies Paper at the Autism NZ 2002 National Conference), medical treatment in terms of ASD is a subject fraught with much difficulty. Accurate evaluation of medical therapies relating to autism throughout medicine has its limitations because of the effects of treatments on the human being – each case is different, as I mentioned earlier.According to my knowledge, just as in most all branches of psychiatry, there is currently no established medical treatment that “cures” any patient with autism. In a study in England, Grafton (1998) found that it was rather the diagnosis of autism, rather than the specific behaviour of the child, that often leads the doctor to trials of anti-psychotic medications; and this conclusion was reached by comparing autism with conduct disorder—which also has aggression and destructive behaviour. In medical practice, behaviour in the autistic child is thought to be the major issue, and is treated (drugged) pharmaceutically.
I believe that to really make a difference with the autistic child, the treatment needs to be holistic – embracing the mind, body and spirit. A parent must be willing to fully explore behavioural modification in co-operation with the schooling and the child’s care giver/s as well as look at improving the child’s health overall.
Eric’s 10-Step Autism Management Program
1. Establish a firm diagnosis
Are you certain your child has ASD? Ask you specialist many questions. Initiate a partnership between your health-care professionals and the care-givers in order to implement correct procedures. I’d recommend you have a plastic folder with pockets, and keep copies of everything – from the doctors, paediatrician and naturopath. You will find this very helpful. Do plenty of research yourself, you have the internet!
2. Explore behavioural modification
Getting into the mind/body approach is particularly important with autism. It is not a matter of just looking at modifying the behaviour, or just changing the diet. You need to look at the whole picture.
3. Get checked for food allergies.
I would recommend an IgE and IgG food allergy blood test. Several overseas labs now provide this option. Autism already has a big impact on the way a child relates to the world, and any unnecessary food allergies will only worsen matters. Allergenic foods can be a real minefield – get onto the right diet. Trust me – just do it, your child is best to avoid all dairy products initially, also try to avoid bananas and pineapple, oranges and peanuts. Try elimination & challenge.
4. Let your child have a Hair Analysis
to check out if you have deficiencies or toxicities. Every autistic patient we see has a hair analysis, it is an important step in detecting any major mineral deficiency especially. There are several reputable labs which you can work with.
5. Assess digestion for any abnormalities.
Supplements may include a high potency pre and probiotic and digestive enzymes in some extreme cases. I like using Glutamine with children as well, this amino acid helps repair the digestive wall.
6. Dietary supplements.
Apart from the diet, give the right Omega 3 oils and supplements daily. Again, seek professional help. I have always recommend a DHA top heavy Omega 3 oil for the child afflicted with autism, dosage depends on age and requirements. DHA is the Omega 3 portion which has a particularly beneficial effect on the brain and cognition.
7. Check the liver & kidney detoxification pathways.
Replenish liver support nutrients, support the kidney’s ability to excrete toxins. It is surprising that by cleansing a child’s liver how calming the effect can be. I have often found that a liver cleanse can have a positive effect on an autistic person, improve the appetite, improve the sleep and a lot more. Even if you do just a few things – clean up the liver and improve the kidney’s efficiency, you are doing so much to promote health in a little person’s body.
8. Assess Immune abnormalities.
Low white blood cell counts are common, and so are high antibody levels, and an increase towards auto-immunity for many. Consider using specialised herbs and nutrients to help maintain a good immune function. Again – work with your health-care professional with experience in autism. Poor immunity can spell grumpy behaviour, poor sleep and tiredness.
9. Periodic testing
is important, according to Dr. Kidd. The laboratory values can be up or down, and treatments can be aimed to a degree of improving their function. Repeat hair testing as required – particularly if you find heavy metals such as lead, mercury, cadmium and arsenic.
10. Osteopathic treatment
A good therapy for the autistic child is osteopathy, I have found that a series of a few good sessions of structural of cranial osteopathy can bring about an excellent result particularly when combined with correct diet and supplementation. Ask around, there is bound to be a good osteopath in your region. I personally prefer to work with an osteopath who has been trained in Britain, the British School of Osteopathy has an enviable reputation for turning out excellent practitioners, and there are many BSO graduates in NZ.
There is hope today with autism, because along with the rise in autism has come an improvement in treatment. Many individuals with autism have experienced huge improvements, and some are even recovering. Various experts have successfully advanced the management of autism to the degree that some autistic children can actually lead normal lives. Unlike in the past, autism is now actually considered a treatable condition among a small number of dedicated functional medicine practitioners who are taking a bio-medical approach, and some of these are seeing amazing results.
It is encouraging for the parent or caregiver of the child with autism, that today things are different in term s of understanding the condition, and the treatments/management of the case as compared only a few years ago. Many people believe that the autistic child may be a casualty of the toxicity of modern society, or be highly allergic to certain foods, or come from a home where there is/has been a lot of conflict.
Potential triggering factors such as antibiotic overdosing, over-vaccination, and prenatal drug overloading could very well all interact with each other, and with a high probability account for the development of dysbiosis, leaky gut, and many more conditions associated with autism.Whether any “one cause” for autism will be ever established remains an open question. I don’t think for one moment that autism can be properly addressed when one has become fixated – and blames this or that for causing this condition in their child. It makes more sense to tackle this condition with all the points above in mind, and to effectively develop your own integrative model of the management of autism. The ASD population is slowly but surely making steady advances the past ten years towards an improved quality of life, and with increasing research, natural medicine can play a big role in helping to address many of the problems associated.
Acosta, M.T. & Pearl, P.L. (2003). The neurobiology of autism: New pieces of the puzzle. Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports, 3, 149-156.
Ahearn, W.H., Castine, T., Nault, K., & Green, G. (2001). An assessment of food acceptance in children with autism or pervasive developmental disorder – not otherwise specified. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 31, 505-512.
Black, C., Kaye,J., & Jick, H. (2002). Relation of childhood GI disorders to autism: Nested case-control study using data from the UK General Practice Research Database. British Medical Journal, 325, 419-421.
Feingold, B.F. (1975). Why your child is hyperactive. New York: Random House.
Folstein, S.E., & Rosen-Sheidley, B. (2001). Genetic of autism: Complex aetiology for a heterogeneous disorder. Nature Reviews: Genetics, 2(12), 943-955.
Fombonne, E. (1999). The epidemiology of autism: A review. Psychological Medicine, 29, 769-786.
Fombonne, E. & Chakrabarti, S. (2001). No evidence for a new variant of measles-mumps-rubella-induced autism. Pediatrics, 108, E58.
Hviid, A., Stellfeld, M., Wohlfahrt, J., & Melbye, M. (2003). Association between thimerosal-containing vaccine and autism. Journal of the American Medical Association, 290, 1763-1766.
International Molecular Genetic Study of Autism Consortium (2001). A genomewide screen for autism: Strong evidence for linkage to chromosomes 2q, 7q, and 16p. American Journal of Human Genetics, 69, 570-581.
Lightdale, J.R., Hayer, C., Duer, A., Lind-White, C., Jenkins, S., Siegel, B., Elliot, G.R., & Heyman, M.B. (2001). Effects of intravenous secretin on language and behavior of children with autism and gastrointestinal symptoms: A single-blinded, open-label pilot study. Pediatrics, 108(5). URL:http://www.pediatrics.org/cgi/content/full/108/5/e90.
Lyall, J. (2004). Editor in the eye of the storm. British Medical Journal, 328:528 (28 Feb). doi:10.1136/bmj.328.7438.528.
Mayor, S. (2003). Authors reject interpretation linking autism and MMR vaccine. British Medical Journal, 328:602 (13 Mar). doi:10.1136/bmj.328.7440.602-c.
Muhle, R., Trentacoste, S.V., & Rapin, I. (2004). The genetics of autism. Pediatrics, 113, 472-486.
National Institutes of Health. (1996). NIH Publication No. 96-3572, printed 1994, reprinted 1996. Booklet. 44p. Retrieved September, 1997.
Roberts, W., Weaver, L., Brian, J., Bryson, S., Emelianova, S., Griffiths, A., MacKinnon, B., Yim, C., Wolpin, J., & Koren, G. (2001). Repeated doses of porcine secretin in the Treatment of autism: A randomized, placebo-controlled trial. Pediatrics, 107(5). URL:http://www.pediatrics.org/cgi/content/full/107/5/e71.
Ritvo, E.M., & Freeman, B.J. (1978). National society for autistic children definition of the syndrome of autism. Journal of Autism and Childhood Schizophrenia, 8, 162-170.
Taylor, B. et al. (2002). MMR vaccination and bowel problems or developmental regression in children with autism: Population study