The Autism Society of America has declared an autism epidemic.
Three in one
ASD is a term used to describe three disorders: the first being autism which is the most severe form; secondly Asperger’s syndrome which lacks autism’s delay in cognitive development and language; and thirdly, pervasive developmental disorder-not specified (PDD-NOS) is diagnosed when the full set of criteria for Asperger’s or autism isn’t met.
Characterised by impaired social interaction, tightly focussed and repetitive behaviour as well as poor communication ability, ASD is defined as a neural development disorder. Symptoms emerge before the age of three and research strongly indicates that behavioural therapy and dietary considerations can have a positive effect. The brain’s ability to process information is affected, which explains the delayed development in thought and language. Another troubling aspect of autism is hypersensitivity to touch which is heartbreaking for parents who simply want to hug their child. Grandin created a stress-relieving hug machine, designed to give the feeling of a hug without the painful touch sensitivity.
Because ASD covers a broad range of symptoms, a single, brief examination is simply not enough – ideally, a team of specialists should be involved in the diagnosis, first using the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders edition four (DSM IV) to assess if the child fits with criteria for diagnosis. A physical and neurological examination is then required to complete the diagnosis.
INSIDE OR OUT?
What causes ASD isn’t fully understood, but a combination of genetic and environmental factors is largely believed to be responsible. The ability to adequately eliminate environmental toxins is lower in people with autism. We’re all exposed to increasingly high amounts of environmental toxins and free radicals from a number of different sources, and autistic people’s inability to properly deal with this build up leads to damage in the mitochondria (the part of the cell necessary for energy production) and sometimes cell death. High levels of toxicity in the body also increase inflammation, affecting the immune system. Autistic children have distinctly different immune system reactions compared to children who do not have this condition.
Another consideration that has been raging for years is the theory that immunisation with the MMR vaccine (a three part vaccine given to protect against measles, mumps and rubella) causes ASD in susceptible children. The jury’s still out on whether or not this is a factor.
In addition, poor blood supply and oxygenation of the brain is common in autistic children. This results in two distinctly autistic characteristics – poor social interaction and communication, and an obsessive desire for monotony.
There’s a lot of evidence suggesting gastrointestinal illness may be a major contributing factor to autism, putting nutrition at the forefront of any treatment plan. Leo Kanner, who originally defined autism in 1943, clearly states that six of his first 11 patients had “feeding or dietary issues”. In 1951, numerous researchers, including C Hans Asperger, described abnormal and autistic-like behaviours in children with gluten intolerances.
Gut health plays a major role in the immune system, digestion and the absorption of essential nutrients, as well as preventing toxins from entering the circulation. Dr Jerry Kartzinel, a leading expert on the integrative management of ASD, says that when an autistic child’s bowels improve, so does eye contact, language ability and overall health.
A new study released this year supports many research project findings that point to ASD as being a medical, rather than a psychological, disorder despite the behavioural manifestations.
Natural medicine and nutritional supplementation can address many of the suspected underlying causes of autism including environmental toxins, inflammation and poor gut health. One such supplement is dimethylglycine (DMG) which helps the body produce the master antioxidant, glutathione. A study by the Autism Research Institute showed that 42% of the children with ASD tested responded positively to DMG. Their verbal communication improved, as did social interaction and eye contact, affection, sleep patterns and a reduction in seizures was achieved.
No one treatment can be seen as a cure-all. Every child should be viewed entirely as an individual and a treatment plan, which combines all relevant available options, should be integrated for the child’s specific needs.
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