Autism awareness has come very far since it was first diagnosed in the 1940’s. Autism spectrum disorder or ASD is a term used for a group of complex disorders that develops early in childhood. It’s characterized by varying degrees of abnormalities in social interaction, verbal as well as non-verbal communication, and repetitive behaviors, interests or activities. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) the rate for autism is currently around 1 in 68. Research also shows that the disease is four to five times more common among boys than girls. While the actual etiology of autism at this point is unknown there are many speculations to its cause, some of which include genetics, abnormalities in brain structure or function, obstetric complications, exposure to environmental toxins or prenatal and perinatal infections. Regular screening of infants and toddlers for autism is imperative because early interventions can greatly increase positive outcomes for children with ASD. Autism itself is a very complex disorder and treatment is difficult. Just as there may be no one cause of autism, there is really no one treatment approach and it seems that a multidisciplinary approach may be best. Below are some recommendations for management of ASD.
- Special Education, Speech, Behavior, Occupational and Physical Therapy are all critical in the management of children with autism and parents should seek help from therapists as soon as a diagnosis of autism has been made. Parents may experience challenging behaviors from their child and these professionals can offer effective ways to help modify those behaviors.
- Diet is a topic that goes hand in hand with autism. There are many diets such as the Ketogenic Diet, Feingold Diet, GAPS Diet, Specific Carbohydrate Diet and Low Oxalate Diet that claim to help children with autism. There has been limited anecdotal evidence that suggests that dietary measures may be helpful. However, in my practice I have seen that diet may play a key role in the intervention of Autism Spectrum Disorder and some of its key symptoms. One of the most talked about dietary intervention in these children includes the removal of gluten and casein from their diets. Gluten is the protein found in wheat and casein makes up the protein found in dairy. While gluten and dairy removal may have noticeable impact on behavior in some children with autism not all families report benefits. When removing gluten or dairy from your children’s diets to see if it is beneficial, it’s important to have 100% strict removal for at least 6-8 weeks.
- Many children with autism are not meeting the recommended daily allowances of vitamins and minerals. Research has shown that nutritional imbalances in children with autism are common and some may be very important. It’s important to consult with a trained health care provider who can help you assess your child’s diet and supplement intake to make sure they’re meeting proper recommended intake of nutrients. Below are some common supplements that may be helpful in children with autism. When choosing supplements, make sure they are gluten and dairy free, have no added sugars, limited added fillers/excipients, and are free of artificial colors, dyes, and flavors.
- A lot of research has been done in recent years that shed light on the importance of vitamin D. Vitamin D is actually a hormone that has the ability to turn on and off genes. Researchers have begun to look at the role of vitamin D deficiency in children diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. There was a case report out of China that showed improved symptoms in a child with low vitamin D levels after treatment with vitamin D. One research article found an increased prevalence of autism in the USA in regions of greater cloud cover and rainfall. Also in the US the rate of autism for children 6-17 years of age is highest in regions with the lowest solar UVB. These are both factors that influence vitamin D levels in the body. More research is needed and currently being done on the connection between vitamin D and autism.
- There is a great deal of research that associates abnormal intestinal or gut flora with ASD development. Therefore, probiotics may play a crucial role in helping to regulate intestinal flora and restore normal gut flora in children diagnosed with autism.
- We know fatty acids are essential for the development and proper function of the brain. Several small-scale studies looking at fish oils containing the omega 3 fatty acids EPA and DHA have shown that these supplements may lead to improvements in children suffering from ASD. Specifically fish oils may improve hyperactivity, repetitive behaviors and socialization.
- Glutathione made up of three amino acids (cysteine, glycine and glutamine), has many functions in the body, one of which is detoxification. The body’s detoxifications systems are important in protecting against both internal as well as external toxins. It is believed that the concentration of reduced glutathione is decreased in children with ASD as well as other factors associated with methylation. According to one study, supplementation with methylcobalamin, the preferred form of supplementation for vitamin B12 and Folinic Acid (a folate derivative), increased concentrations of cysteine, cysteinylglycine and glutathione. The study also found that although the mean metabolite concentrations improved significantly the levels remained below those of the neuro-typical control children.
While there are certainly other supplements that may help improve symptoms of autism these are just a few to start and build a foundation. As always, it is important to consult your child’s health care provider before starting supplementation due to the potential for interactions and side effects.