Autism is a disorder, beginning in early childhood, that limits a child's ability to appropriately respond to his or her surrounds. It may effect language development, personal interaction or perception of the environment. Autistic children often withdraw from social interaction and/or the environment into personalised rituals and repetitive movements or vocalisatio.ns They may be overly sensitive to specific sights, sounds or textures. Furthermore they may not respond appropriately to rules, punishments and rewards.
Why is it called a Spectrum?
Like most conditions, Autistic symptoms may range from mild to severe. This is important to understand as it may explain the variable responses to treatment that may occur.
What causes Autism?
The causes of Autism are not well understood at present. Genetic susceptability, dietary and nutritional imbalances, environmental factors and toxins (e.g. aluminium and mercury) have all been suggested as responsible for Autism developing.
Controversial debate continues as to whether or not vaccinations contribute to the development of Autism. While medical studies support the safety of vaccines, many parents continue to anecdotally attribute their child's Autism to vaccination. Given the timing of vaccinations with the period in which Autism is often identified this is a vitriolic debate that is likely to continue.
In fact it may be likely that a combination of causes, varying in significance between individuals, may be responsible for the development of Autism, which again may explain the differing degrees on the spectrum and responses to treatment experienced by individuals.
When does Austism develop?
Autism generally develops before 18 months, although this may be delayed up to three years or later. Some children may develop normal at first but regress between one year and 18 months or later, others show delayed development from the first.
Early identification is critical as the sooner intervention is undertaken the better the outcome.
Are there any signs to look out for?
Delayed or a regression in communication skills, isolation from others, ritualised behaviours, a sensitisation to light, sound or other stimuli, tantrums, inappropriate decision making and obsessive, simplistic and often meaningless fascination all may be early warning signs of Autism.
What has Pharmaceutical Medicine to offer?
Unfortunately no pharmaceutical interventions for Autism have been identified.
Can Foods Affect Autism?
The elimination of particular foods from an Autistic childs diet can be a very important start, although other children show no response at all. The primary foods to eliminate include wheat and other gluten grains (barley, rye, oats), dairy and artificial colourings and flavourings. In fact gluten and dairy foods that leak through the gastrointestinal symptoms are known to influence the brain through the creation of natural morphine derivatives.
Food elimination needs to be strict to be effective. While some children react almost immediately, others need a long term trial for benefits to be noticed.
Healthy gluten/dairy free diets can appear difficult at first, but many recipe books exist to help you here (see the MINDD website). Be careful to maintain a diversified diet as much as possible as concentrating foods due to restriction of gluten/dairy can lead to other intolerances (e.g. an excessive increase in the use of almond meal to replace flour).
What about Candida infections?
One of the many controversies between mainstream and complementary approaches to Autism. Candida is a fungus that may affect the oral and genital regions of infected patients, however less agreement exists as to whether or not systemic wide spread Candida infections occur and influence Autism.
Alternative approaches to Candida involve the use of anti-fungal medications (pharmaceutical or herbal) and a diet restricting all yeast and sugar rich foods (including dairy, gluten, fruits etc). As this can be a very restrictive approach to dieting it should not be considered unless under the supervision of an experienced and responsible medical professional.
Can Nutritional Supplementation approaches help?
Nutritional Supplementation can make a signficiant difference in influencing Autism ins some children, but again, not all. It is critical that programmes are personalised addressing the individual needs of the child.
Various nutritional requirements may need to be met including:
Gastrointestinal support to heal 'Leaky Gut'.
Meeting Vitamin and Mineral requirements
Amino Acid and Co-nutrients to assist Neurotransmitter Imbalances
Organisations that train practitioners interested in the above approaches to treating Autism include:
The Bill Walsh Institute
The Pfeiffer Institute
What Developmental Therapies may assist?
A multidisciplinary approach to Autism through developmental therapies is important. Depending upon the child's symptoms, intensive Physiotherapy, Occupational Therapy, Speech Therapy and Psychological Interventions may be critical to optimising child development.
What of Complementary and Alternative Options?
There are many complementary and alternative therapies claimed to assist Autistic children. Reported results, as with most therapies for Autism, vary widely. Successful treatment of the autistic child can, unfortunately, often be a process of trial and error and there are never any guarantees that long term changes will be achieved.A balance of pragmatic appraisal and optimism needs to be achieved as interventions can be costly. On the other hand, where results are positive, any therapy that improves the life of the Autistic child and his/her family should be considered. Therapies you may wish to explore include:
Movement and Play Therapies
The Listen Programme
Chiropractic and Cranio-Sacral Therapies
Support for the Parents and Other Children
The journey of the family with an Autistic child is often difficult. Seperation rates are high. For this reason extended support and respite avenues should be developed as early as possible for the family with Autistic children.
The variability of Autism makes it a difficult condition to diagnose, predict and treat. Outcomes often differ, even when the same therapeutic input is provided to different children. While it is important to remain objective in the approach you take with your child, there is hope in an array of mainstream and complementary approaches to this condition.