Autism Spectrum Disorder
“If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.”
-Dr. Stephen Shore
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder, which today affects an estimated 1 in 59 children. People diagnosed with ASD have deficits in communication and social interaction, and often exhibit restricted, repetitive behaviors. Autism is not just a psychiatric disorder, however, and there is no ‘one type’ of autism. There are many variations, and each person with autism has unique challenges and strengths.
The organization Autism Speaks, states that there is ‘a combination of genetic and environmental factors that influence the development of autism, and it is often accompanied by medical issues such as gastrointestinal disorders, seizures and sleep disturbances’. (1)
Signs to look for
According to the Autism Society, the condition is treatable. Early diagnosis and intervention can lead to significant improvement. (2) Signs to look for include:
Lack of or delay in spoken language
Repetitive use of language and/or motor mannerisms (e.g., hand-flapping, twirling objects)
Little or no eye contact
Lack of interest in peer relationships
Lack of spontaneous or make-believe play
Persistent fixation on parts of objects
Just like there is no one symptom or behavior that characterizes all those with autism, there is no single treatment that will be effective for everyone on the spectrum. The Mayo Clinic states that the ‘goal of treatment is to maximize your child’s ability to function by reducing autism spectrum disorder symptoms and supporting development and learning.’ Early intervention can help children with social and behavioral skills. (3) Many home-based and school-based treatments are available, and parents find success using some of the following modalities:
Behavior and communication therapies
Addressing medical health issues such as epilepsy, sleep disorders, food intolerances and preferences, gastrointestinal disorders
The role of nutrition
Nutrition therapy is a fantastic adjunct to behavioral and biomedical treatments. As a nutritionist, I have seen amazing results when the right healing diet is introduced. Gastrointestinal issues and nutritional deficiencies resolve, eczema and skin issues improve, children calm down and focus better, repetitive behaviors are reduced, and dinner time becomes more pleasant because kids are eating a wider variety of nutritious foods without fussing.
There are many routes to take where diet is concerned. It is often traumatic for parents to even think of dietary changes when their child limits himself or herself to three or four foods. Does this sound like you? Believe me, I see it all the time. However, I also see big improvements even with small changes. For example, by removing gluten (the protein found in wheat, rye and barley) and casein (the protein found in dairy products), a vast majority of those on the spectrum can have results. This may seem overwhelming, but it is much easier today, as many food manufacturers are making gluten and casein-free foods more palatable, and more restaurants are catering to the needs of those with food sensitivities.
Many children have initial success on a gluten and casein-free diet, but may need a more targeted approach later on to continue making progress. Parents can opt for food sensitivity testing and work with a nutritionist to create a ‘bioindividual’ program for their child.
If your child or loved one is on the autism spectrum and you would like to explore biomedical and nutritional options, give me a call at 732-440-8859 for more information. I help both children and adults at the Children’s Wellness and Developmental Center in Spring Lake Heights, NJ.