Autism is a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life. It causes poor development of language and social skills.
It is one of five Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDD), a category of neurological disorders characterized by "severe and pervasive impairment in several areas of development," including social interaction and communications skills.
How Common Is Autism?
What Causes It?
What Are the Symptoms?
How Is It Diagnosed?
Additional Diagnostic Considerations
Natural or Alternative Treatments
How Can Autism Be Prevented?
What Should You Do Next?
This web page contains some important but technical information on autism that may be difficult to understand. Please send an email or call us at 860-347-8600 if you have any questions about this information on autism.
Recent estimates on the prevalence of autism range as high as 0.25% to 0.5% of the population. These estimates typically include those with autism, Asperger syndrome, and PDD.
Autism is three times more likely to affect males than females. This gender difference is also common in other developmental disabilities. Family income, lifestyle, and education are not factors.
There is no known single cause, but it is generally accepted that autism is caused by abnormalities in brain structure or function. Brain scans show differences in the shape and structure of the brain in autistic children vs. non-autistic children. Studies of twins and siblings suggest that there may be a genetic component. In addition, an increased frequency of occurrence is noted in people with genetic conditions such as fragile X syndrome and tuberous sclerosis. Some reports have suggested a possible association with Down syndrome.
There may be a role for neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, in the development and expression of autism. Other factors that may contribute to child autism include infections, congenital rubella syndrome, neurofibromatosis, errors in metabolism, immunology, lead poisoning, mercury toxicity, and fetal alcohol syndrome. It is thought that immunizations, particularly measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine, may precipitate autism. This is a very heated debate and research is still ongoing--no one knows for sure.
Autism is a spectrum disorder, meaning that the symptoms can present themselves in a wide variety of combinations, from mild to severe. Although autism is defined by a certain set of behaviors, children and adults can exhibit any combination of the behaviors in any degree of severity. Two children with the same diagnosis can act very differently from one another and have varying skills.
Here is an autism symptoms checklist:
- Insistence on sameness; resistance to change
- Difficulty in expressing needs; uses gestures or pointing instead of words
- Repeating words or phrases in place of normal, responsive language
- Laughing, crying, showing distress for reasons not apparent to others
- Prefers to be alone; aloof manner
- Difficulty in mixing with others
- May not want to cuddle or be cuddled
- Little or no eye contact
- Unresponsive to normal teaching methods
- Sustained odd play
- Spins objects
- Inappropriate attachments to objects
- Apparent over-sensitivity or under-sensitivity to pain
- No real fears of danger
- Noticeable physical over-activity or extreme under-activity
- Uneven gross/fine motor skills
- Not responsive to verbal cues; acts as if deaf although hearing tests in normal range.
- Various other autism symptom checklists are also available.
- Concerns about child autism symptoms often begin with parents who notice delayed speech and language development, typically noticed at about 18 months of age.
- As part of a well-baby/well-child visit, the doctor should do a "developmental screening" by asking specific questions about your baby's progress.
- According to The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), these are possible autism symptoms that warrant further evaluation: no babbling, pointing, or other gestures by 12 months of age, no single words by 16 months of age, no two-word spontaneous phrases by 24 months of age, and loss of previously learned language or social skills at any age.
- There are no medical tests that diagnose autism. However, certain medical evaluations may be performed (depending on history and presentation) to investigate and rule out other possible causes of the symptoms or to identify underlying causes:
- Wood's light examination of the skin to help identify the depigmented macules of tuberous sclerosis.
- Lead screening.
- Metabolic testing.
- Electroencephalography (EEG) and central nervous system imaging studies may be done to evaluate neurologic features that cannot be explained by the diagnosis of autism alone.
- Because deafness or profound hearing loss can cause symptoms mimicking autism, a formal hearing evaluation should be done.
- When autism is suspected, a referral is made for further developmental evaluation and cognitive testing. There is no single behavioral or communications test that can diagnose autism. However, there are several screening instruments that are now in use.
These diagnostic labs are not performed by most conventional doctors. However, they are often of great value in diagnosis of underlying imbalances and personalizing treatment in children with autism.
- Diagnostic testing to uncover digestive problems. Testing may include: stool culture, comprehensive digestive stool analysis, stool parasite study, and bowel permeability testing.
- Diagnostic testing to evaluate allergic problems including food intolerances, gluten sensitivity, casein sensitivity, and mold sensitivities.
- Diagnostic testing to evaluate toxic metal exposures, especially mercury. Testing may be done on blood, hair or urine. Thimerosal is a mercury containing preservative that is used in vaccination preparations. A child that has had the usual vaccination schedule of shots is at risk for toxic levels of mercury in the brain and nervous system.
- Diagnostic testing to assess response to chemical toxicity. Measuring the level of mercapturic acid indicates how hard the body is working to purge itself of these chemicals.
- Diagnostic testing to evaluate nutritional levels including fatty acid analysis, amino acid analysis, B12 and folate levels.
- Diagnostic testing to evaluate thyroid and adrenal function.
- The goal is to identify and treat abnormal lab findings and watch for a positive clinical change.
- The above protocol of diagnostic tests will give us information on how to develop a treatment plan to address autism symptoms and move you toward health and well-being.
Medical treatment options are limited and relatively ineffective. Mood- or behavior-altering drugs are sometimes used. No medication has been found that will eliminate the symptoms of autism.
There are some behavioral treatment options for spectrum disorders that are always evolving. These are supportive services which don’t cure autism but may help support the family and assist with behavioral changes and development. These may include behavioral modification (such as Applied Behavioral Analysis), family support, and service delivery models.
Natural medicine treatment for autism is highly individualized. The diagnostic testing described above, as well as your child’s individual presentation, will help us to determine how to proceed. Please note that not all treatments will be recommended with every child or used at the same time. Natural medicine treatment for autism may include all or some of the following:
- Dietary changes
- Diet of foods that are unrefined, free of additives, varied, fresh, little or no sugar. Focus on minimizing carbohydrate and make sure there is an adequate intake of protein and essential fatty acids (EFAs).
- A gluten (no wheat, oats, rye, barley) and casein-free (no dairy) diet, avoiding both for at least 12 weeks.
- A yeast- and mold-free diet for a minimum of 6 weeks.
- A diagnostic trial of avoidance of all common allergenic foods for a minimum of 4 weeks, including: dairy products, wheat, baker’s yeast, brewer’s yeast, sugar, eggs, corn, peanuts, orange, lemon, lime, soy foods, shellfish, and tomato.
- A trial removing the foods your child is allergic to, as identified through food allergy testing.
- Nutritional supplementation
- A trial of a comprehensive multiple vitamin/mineral formula with an emphasis on B6, magnesium, calcium, zinc, selenium.
- A trial of high dose vitamin B6, pyridoxal 5 phosphate, and magnesium.
- A trial of di-methyl glycine (DMG).
- A trial of high dose folic acid.
- A trial of high dose vitamin C.
- A trial of vitamin B12 injections.
- A trial of DMSA to chelate mercury if the child’s levels were high on testing.
- If intestinal imbalances were found, rebalance intestinal bacteria and yeasts by giving oral doses of good bacteria and yeasts. In addition, we may give a trial of anti-fungal medication for 6-12 weeks.
- A trial of peptidase-rich digestive enzymes such as bromelain or papaya.
- Homeopathic treatment
- Use homeopathic “Brain Protocol” for 2 months and evaluate response.
- If the child has “never been well” since vaccinations, we can address this with homeopathic medicine.
- A trial of constitutional homeopathy.
- Other changes or trials
- Stop fluoride in water, toothpaste, mouthwash, vitamins or pill form.
- Trial of secretin injections
- Trial of IV gamma globulin.
- Identify and address workplace, school, home and personal care chemical exposure.
Because the primary causes of autism in children are not well understood, targeted prevention is difficult. However, naturopathic doctors work to promote wellness by supporting fundamentals of health such as diet, nutrition, and hydration, and to remove things that harm health such as digestive disorders, system imbalances, and environmental, and chemical exposures and toxicities.
The doctors at The Connecticut Center for Health are experienced in the treatment of autism. If you:
- are concerned about child autism,
- want to know more about autism treatments,
- or just want more information on childhood autism,
contact one of our clinics for a free autism consultation or an appointment.