The prevalence of children impacted by autism, a developmental disorder that varies in severity, is so profound that you would be hard-pressed not to either be directly impacted by it or to know someone indirectly who is facing the challenge of raising a child with it.
The manifestation of autism is visible through symptoms of impairment in three domains: social interactions, communications and developmentally appropriate behavior, interests or activities.
Stereotypical body movements, a marked need for sameness, and a very narrow range of interests are also common.
Currently one in 66 Canadian children between the ages of five and 17 have been diagnosed with autism, with boys five times more often impacted than girls, according to statistics presented in a Public Health Agency of Canada report released in 2018. These numbers were similar to the United States, where in 2018, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention pegged their numbers at one in every 59 American children with autism.
Search for causes continues
The CSD reminds us that while we do not know all the causes of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), there are a number of facts we have learned in recent years. Environmental, biologic and genetic factors all come into play as potential factors in the onset of autism.
Research has already determined that:
Genes are one of the risk factors that can make a person more likely to develop ASD.
Children who have a sibling with ASD are at higher risk of also having it.
It tends to occur more often in people who have certain genetic or chromosol conditions such as fragile X syndrome or tuberous sclerosis.
The prescription drugs valproic acid and thalidomide, when taken during pregnancy, have been linked with a higher risk of ASD.
There is some evidence that the critical period for developing ASD occurs before, during and immediately after birth.
Children born to older parents are at greater risk for having ASD.
Dr. Paul Thomas, a prominent pediatrician with a bestselling book, theorizes that: “Autism is an environmental disorder, an epidemic that we have caused by failing to practice evidence-based medicine.”
He says: “While genetics are part of the equation, I believe that we are poisoning our children’s brains at a time when they are most vulnerable, a time when they are developing rapidly, exposing them to both untested chemicals and to known neurotoxins.”
Some of the toxins that he has pegged as implicated in the development of autism include acetaminophen, aluminum, aspartame, endocrine disruptors, fluoride, methanol and mercury.
He advocates healing by restoring biochemistry, aiding the body’s ability to remove toxins, and using diet and nutrition, along with medication, to recover damaged health. Drinking filtered water, eating fresh, whole organic foods and making sure your home is free of toxins and drugs is his suggestion.
Creating a healthy diet for the autistic child
For Thomas and a host of other researchers in the field of ASD, nutrition is an important aspect of treatment.
Parris M. Kidd, author of the study “Autism, An Extreme Challenge to Integrative Medicine”, suggested that among practitioners familiar with autism, there is a strong consensus that modifying the diet and the gastrointestinal system sets the stage for the success of other treatments.
Kidd’s suggestions include removing food additives, colorings, sweeteners and preservatives from the child’s diet and eliminating foods containing casein or gluten.
Other studies have looked at the role of probiotics in children with ASD, therapeutic effects of Vitamin B6 and magnesium and even the possibility of folic acid and folinic acid to create improvements.
In a study by Alan Gaby, it was found that supplementing autistic children with BH4 resulted in improved social functioning (mainly eye contact and desire to interact) and in the number of words or sounds the child used.
In 2010, Alan Gaby in the book Nutritional Medicine suggested that between one and three grams of fish oil a day relieved anxiety, hyperactivity and stereotypy in autistic children. This followed the work of an earlier study that suggested a potential beneficial effect of omega-3 fatty acids on behavioral alterations in children with asthma.
Other studies suggested a positive effect was experienced when autistic children received a vitamin/mineral supplement and two other studies suggested a deficiency of Vitamin D might be the problem.
Looking to the future in treating autism
Who could not forgive the parents of an autistic child from throwing up their hands in frustration and the avalanche of studies and information floating around? Which one should be implemented? Which one should be ignored?
There is comfort to be had in looking over the wealth of research going on in this field. As environmental health funder Peter Sullivan explains: “Because some healthy children have regressed into autism and some autistic children have recovered, cutting edge researchers are rejecting the concept that autism is a lifelong condition.”
As a Naturopathic Doctor, I focus on treating each child in my practice based on the unique set of symptoms their autism shows. It would be rash at this point to suggest that there is a one-size-fits all solution to the treatment of the autistic child.
I have inspiring successes with my customized approach. If you need help, it’s a good idea to book an appointment with a health professional like myself to better determine what solutions could apply successfully to your child.
As a professional primary health care practitioner with a holistic approach, Dr. Caroline Méthé consults with patients of all ages at her Toronto clinic. Her approach as a Naturopathic Doctor in Newmarket treating children, digestive concerns, and running a general family practice is to focus on root-caused diagnosis followed by effective, evidence-based treatment plans.