Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) can be challenging to live with –both for the one diagnosed with it and for his or her family. Autism can be especially hard on the child’s parents, especially when it feels like there’s nothing they can do to make life better for them. The good news is that there’s been a lot of research on how best to support these community members, and there’s so much you can do. There are ways to not only support people dealing with ASD in the moment of an outburst but also ways to help them feel and function better in the long run.
WHAT IS AUTISM SPECTRUM DISORDER?
The CDC explains ASD as a developmental disability. They say it is caused by differences in the brain. Sometimes, there’s a known difference, and other times it’s something that’s not yet known. They go on to say that scientists believe there are multiple causes for ASD that act together to create this neurodevelopmental condition. 
Their statements about “causes [that] are not yet known” and the fact that “there are multiple causes” are both true, although for reasons the CDC may not recognize. The human body is constantly trying to return to homeostasis. The CDC says that many different factors can put a child at higher risk of ASD. These include environmental factors — factors like acetaminophen, vaccines, and allergies. These set the scene for chronic inflammation in the brain, which is made worse by an overabundance of other things like sugar, food dyes, and other toxins. 
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS
While not “symptoms,” as most people define them, a few indications someone may be dealing with ASD are struggling with social interactions, having restricted or repetitive behaviors or interests, or overreacting to sounds, smells, tastes, appearances, or textures. People walking through ASD can have different ways of learning, paying attention, or moving that might make things like traditional school, work, or interacting with others more difficult. 
People with autism may also have a difficult time communicating frustration. They might avoid eye contact or have outbursts and developmental delays. It’s also common for people wrestling with autism to do something called stimming.
Merriam-Webster defines stimming as: a self-stimulatory behavior that is marked by a repetitive action or movement of the body (such as repeatedly tapping on objects or the ears, snapping the fingers, blinking the eyes, rocking from side to side, or grunting) and is typically associated with certain conditions. 
These symptoms can make communicating and interacting with people challenging, especially if they are not used to communicating with someone who functions in this way. Outbursts and not communicating frustration well can also become dangerous at times, both to the autistic child and the person they’re trying to communicate with. Family members often know better how to interact with the child. People can be unpredictable in general, but even more so when they’re in pain. And children and adolescents dealing with ASD are in pain. Let’s look at why.
ENVIRONMENTAL FACTORS THAT IMPACT ASD
At the Wellness Way, most of our patients that deal with autism have a lot of allergies. These allergies can cause a variety of immune responses, ranging from pain to cognitive issues to skin to sleep, which we can test. What’s behind allergies? It all goes back to something commonly referred to as “leaky gut.”
What is a leaky gut?
As Harvard Health explains, our intestinal lining covers more than 4000 square feet of surface area. This intestinal lining forms a relatively tight barrier, allowing properly digested food particles and substances into the bloodstream and keeping partially digested particles out. When the gut lining is unhealthy or has cracks or holes, it isn’t able to serve as a protective screen, allowing particles to roam where they shouldn’t. Hence, the gut is leaky. The substances that leak out can include partially digested food, toxins, bugs, and more. 
Allergies develop when the immune system recognizes something is where it shouldn’t be. This often occurs as a response to a virus or bacterial infection in the body to protect you from getting sick. It also occurs when something in the bloodstream isn’t supposed to be there. The body recognizes this and treats it like an invader. Even if that thing is food, the immune system records it as an intruder and fights it every time it shows up in the future.
If your gut is leaky and substances can escape the gut more easily, this becomes far more likely, resulting in more allergies.
A leaky gut can also irritate the intestinal lining. Why? Because one of the ways the body reacts to allergies is with inflammation. Learn more about healing the gut here, and more about leaky gut here.
Most people don’t look at a child’s autism thinking that inflammation could be a trigger. Or even that it could be exacerbating the situation. But inflammation can have effects most of us don’t think to attribute to it. Inflammation is part of the body’s healing mechanisms. It’s when it becomes chronic that things go downhill. This inflammation can come from or worsen because of a lot of different factors. These could be things like allergies and mental stress. An overabundance of sugar, food dyes, or preservatives could also be a culprit.
We all have certain levels of stress we can handle—physical, mental, and chemical. In chiropractic, these are called the Three T’s: Traumas, toxins, and thoughts. The body reads all stress as the same. Whether you have stress because you’re fleeing a burning house or stress because of family relationships, the body handles it the same way.
What if your child is already at his or her body’s stress threshold? They’re not going to be as focused on learning new things as surviving the day. This could lead to a child’s development lagging behind their peers.
This is also why harmless stimming behaviors and fidgets aren’t always bad. If stimming or leaving an overstimulating environment helps your little one, allow your child to turn to their coping mechanisms. It’s not any worse for an autistic child than the coping mechanisms adults develop for our own stress. Depending on the situation, it might even be more productive.
FAMILY MEMBERS ACTING AS BUFFERS
People can be rude, especially when things a child is coping with — or your family dynamics — aren’t what they’re used to. Entrust siblings and parents to be a buffer for the child struggling with ASD.
What if someone pushes the idea that, “it’s just one piece of cake; it won’t hurt anything”? Allow the family of the child to step between the child’s special needs and the one offering. Encourage both siblings and parents to be able to state firmly, “No. Johnny can’t have a piece of cake. No. It’s not just a treat. It’s a matter of his quality of life and a child’s needs.”
If it’s to protect your child or sibling, it’s okay to be rude.
Encourage your child to let you know if things are getting to be too much. Ensure the child knows that they can step out if they need to, and you’ll go with them. That it’s okay; their well-being is more important than whether they look great-aunt Janet in the eyes — especially if that causes more mental stress than they can handle.
Remember to have patience with your child or adolescent. They’re struggling with keeping their mental health in a good place. More than likely, they’re in a lot of pain. Remind them that their family supports them and that their family and other caregivers want to help them reclaim their wellness. Sometimes, that means giving them a bit of a break from the “expected” socialization. And that’s fine.
You are not a robot, and your body doesn’t need metal inside it. When metal enters the body, it causes an immune response, just like allergies. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) gives the following as some symptoms of heavy metal toxicity:
- DNA damage, impaired DNA repair, cell apoptosis, or carcinogenesis.
- Peroxidation of cell membrane lipids and cell damage
- Inactivation of the enzyme proteins.
- Prevention of protein folding.
- Protein aggregation.
- Conformational changes that affect their structure and function and cause cell damage. 
Mercury is one of those heavy metals, and it’s frequently used as an adjuvant in vaccines. Aluminum is another toxic metal used as an adjuvant. It’s not technically a heavy metal; in fact, it’s actually classified as a light metal due to where it falls on the periodic table of elements.
The CDC explains that these adjuvants have been vaccine ingredients since the 1930s. They claim that small amounts of aluminum are added to the vaccines to help the body build a stronger immunity against the germ or virus, and that aluminum is one of the most common metals in nature, found in air, food, and water. The CDC continues, claiming research shows the aluminum exposure from the vaccine schedule is low and not easily absorbed by the body. 
Is that really true? Let’s break this down a little bit.
ALUMINUM DOES NOT HELP THE BODY BUILD STRONGER IMMUNITY
The CDC claims that it does. Let’s look at how that might happen — how aluminum adjuvants could possibly help build immunity.
The World Economic Forum explains that aluminum adjuvants encourage a more potent immune response, making the vaccine more effective. This is needed because the actual antigen in the vaccine is in such a small amount that it may not trigger the desired reaction. They also say that “we still don’t fully understand how they work,” but that aluminum salts remain a “trusted and widely used adjuvant.” 
In other words, they don’t know how aluminum works as an adjuvant, but it’s widely used and trusted.
THE AMOUNT OF ALUMINUM EXPOSURE IS NOT LOW
How many vaccines do children get per visit? According to the vaccine schedule, it can be anywhere from one to eight vaccines in a single visit.  They don’t get that many every well-child visit, but they do get twenty-five before they’re a year old, according to the CDC’s recommendations . So, is the amount of aluminum exposure as low as the CDC claimed? Maybe in a single vaccine. But take that number and multiply it by twenty-five in a small body, and the exposure isn’t low at all.
Beyond that, not all the pathways for detoxing things like aluminum are fully formed in a young child. So, what is all the aluminum of those twenty-five vaccines doing? Just sitting there in the infant’s body.
ONE OF THE MOST COMMON METALS IN OUR WATER AND AIR
The amount of aluminum in the vaccines could be at negligible levels; that is, if babies were to only get one, and that was the only source of exposure. But it isn’t. We’re exposed to aluminum through our air and water as well. The amount of metal toxicity your child may have been exposed to wasn’t negligible after all. It was building up and just sitting there.
The good news is that you can test the levels of toxic metals in the body. It is possible to detox from them, especially later in childhood and into adulthood. The body is constantly trying to get back to homeostasis, and it’s designed to repair itself.
DIMINISHING THE PARENTAL STRESS
Health challenges aren’t easy.
Childcare isn’t easy, and family life when a child has unique needs can be even harder.
The good news is that there is no “you will get autism” gene. As has been stated above, the body is constantly trying to return to homeostasis. A child’s diagnosis isn’t the end of the story; it is a sign you need to address something. And, a lot of the time, that something has to do with toxins, food, and how much sugar the child is taking in.
There’s a quote from Chris Guillebeau that says:
The best time to start was last year. Failing that, today will do.
Don’t feel bad because you didn’t make a change yesterday or two years ago. Start working on improving everyone’s health today so that you and your family will thrive in the future.
We all love our kids, but that doesn’t mean we don’t occasionally need a break from them. Parents of children with an autism diagnosis or suspected autism are no exception. Invest in a date night. Join an autism-related support group. Allow yourself the benefit of some self-care or an evening away.
A child with autism, or any health challenge, can make for an interesting family dynamic and a unique combination of stressors. But things can always get better. Start by getting your family’s food allergies tested, cutting the sugar intake, and working on healing the gut. Most of all, be patient with everyone involved. It’s not an easy situation for anyone. To learn more about how to do health differently, contact a Wellness Way clinic near you!
- What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?: CDC
- Stimming: Merriam-Webster Dictionary
- Leaky Gut: What is it, and What Does it Mean for You?
- Heavy Metal Toxicity: NIH
- Adjuvants and Vaccines: CDC
- What are adjuvants? Everything you need to know about the unsung heroes of vaccines: World Economic Forum
- 2022 Recommended Immunizations for Children from Birth Through 6 Years Old: CDC
- Vaccines by Age: CDC