Do you know someone with autism? Perhaps it’s someone close to you – a child or a friend. In fact, there are more and more occurrences of this condition, since autism is becoming more prevalent each year. What causes autism, and how can you best support those diagnosed with it?
What is Autism?
Autism is a developmental disorder that shows up in early childhood.
The term “autism” comes from the Greek word, autos, which means “self.” Swiss psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler coined the term to describe a condition in which the person withdraws into their own inner world. Those with autism are often less tolerant of external stimuli and interactions, which is evident in the common symptoms of the condition.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines autism spectrum disorder (ASD) as “a developmental disability caused by differences in the brain.” They further explain that while some people with ASD have known changes in the brain, such as a genetic condition, others have causes that are not yet known. 
Experts believe multiple contributing factors act together to create ASD during childhood development.
Symptoms of Autism
According to data from the CDC, autism shows up through changes in social interaction and social communication, restricted or repetitive behaviors, slower brain development, delayed skill achievement, and other symptoms. Here are some possible autism symptoms: 
- Avoiding or not maintaining eye contact
- Not responding to his or her name by 9 months
- Not showing facial expressions by 9 months
- Not playing simple interactive games by 12 months
- Using few or no gestures by 12 months (Doesn’t wave goodbye)
- Doesn’t share interests with others by 15 months (showing something they like)
- Doesn’t point at something interesting by 18 months (about 1 and a half years)
- Doesn’t notice when others are hurt or upset by 24 months (about 2 years)
- Doesn’t notice when other children start playing with them at 36 months (about 3 years)
- Doesn’t pretend to be someone or something else by 48 months (about 4 years)
- Doesn’t sing, dance, or perform for you by 60 months (5 years)
- Lines up toys or objects and gets upset when things are out of order
- Repeats words or phrases over and over
- Has repetitive ways of playing with toys
- Focuses on certain parts of objects
- Is easily upset by changes/needs to follow certain routines
- Exhibits hyperactivity symptoms
- Gastrointestinal symptoms like constipation
- Has epilepsy or a seizure disorder
- Deals with anxiety or excessive worry
- Has usual sleeping or eating habits
- Overreacts to sounds, smells, tastes, appearances, or textures
- Has noticeable learning impairments
Not all children with autism will have all the symptoms listed above, but a collection of these symptoms can help in the process of getting diagnosed.
How is Autism Diagnosed?
While there isn’t a particular diagnostic test for autism, doctors evaluate signs, symptoms, developmental history, and even family history to arrive at an autism diagnosis. Autism is also known to be four times more common in boys than girls. 
Autism is most reliably diagnosed at age 2 or above, but many children aren’t diagnosed until they are much older –some aren’t diagnosed until they are teenagers or even adults. Genetic testing can also indicate whether someone’s at increased risk of having autism. 
The Fireman vs. The Carpenter in Healthcare
At The Wellness Way, we talk about the mainstream perspective on healthcare versus our perspective and methods as the “fireman approach” or the “carpenter approach.”
Mainstream “fireman” doctors have two tools (treatment options) for caring for people: an axe and a hose. The axe represents cutting things out in a surgical procedure. The hose represents using medications to extinguish inflammation, pain, and other symptoms.
The Wellness Way doctors are more like carpenters. They assess the current state of the body with testing and then create a personalized plan to rebuild using nutrients from foods and supplements. Sunshine, rest, and positive relationships are additional natural therapies that help with healing.
While these things are considered “complementary medicine” or even “alternative medicine,” scientific research backs up their effectiveness in healing.
Mainstream Medicine’s Approach to Autism
Mainstream medicine sees autism as a genetic condition that may be brought on by environmental factors, but they don’t tend to investigate what those environmental factors might be.
According to the CDC, the treatments typically pursued for those with autism fall within seven main categories: 
- Behavioral – An example is Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA).
- Developmental – Speech and Language Therapy or Occupational Therapy, for example.
- Educational – Approaches in the classroom setting, such as Treatment and Education of Autistic and Related Communication-Handicapped Children (TEACCH), focus on consistency and visual learning.
- Social-relational – These treatments focus on improving social skills and building emotional bonds.
- Pharmacological – No medications treat the core symptoms of autism. Medications are used to treat accompanying symptoms like hyperactivity or difficulty focusing (ADHD), anxiety or depression, self-harming behaviors, sleep problems, seizures, etc.
- Psychological – Psychological treatments are generally to address things like anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues that may accompany autism. One popular approach is Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which can help make links between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
- Complementary and alternative – When all else fails, mainstream doctors may include “complementary and alternative” medicine, such as a healthy diet, supplementation, herbs, chiropractic, music or art therapy, mindfulness, or other therapies that help to lower inflammation and calm the brain.
Common Medications for Autism
Conventional treatment of autism may or may not involve medication. If used, medications are generally used for mood and behavioral issues like anxiety or ADHD. Here are some popular categories of medications used for autism spectrum disorders: 
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs): SSRIs are thought to delay the uptake of the neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine, keeping them active longer in the brain. They are also used for depression, anxiety, panic disorder, etc. Examples of SSRIs include Cymbalta, Pristiq, and Effexor.
- Tricyclic antidepressants: These drugs aren’t typically used unless the patient doesn’t get improvement from SSRIs or SNRIs. That’s because they can lead to more side effects than SSRIs and SNRIs. Examples of tricyclics include imipramine (Tofranil), nortriptyline (Pamelor), and amitriptyline.
- Psychoactive or anti-psychotic medications: These medications are used for reducing irritability, hyperactivity, and stereotyped autistic behaviors. A common drug used for elementary school-aged autistic children is risperidone (Risperdal).
Other common medications are stimulants, anti-anxiety meds, and anticonvulsants for those with seizure disorders. These meds may help with symptoms, but they all have negative side effects and can contribute to other health problems. The lack of answers from mainstream medicine often leads parents of children with autism to seek out alternative treatments or interventions.
What Causes Autism? Trauma, Toxins, and Thoughts
What’s the cause of autism? There’s rarely just one. While mainstream docs tend to believe mental health is separate from physical health, at The Wellness Way, we disagree. A large part of autism has to do with an altered gut microbiome and immune system due to a variety of physical, biochemical, and emotional stressors.
Traumas (Physical Stressors)
Traumas or physical stressors can be acute or chronic. Chronic subluxations in the spine can inhibit nerve and blood flow to the small intestine, leading to dis-ease there, and triggering an inflammatory response. An inflamed gut is an inflamed brain. Other traumas that may contribute to autism include: 
- Pregnancy complications
- Birth trauma, including C-section
- Feeding problems
- Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
- Severe illness or infection
- The trauma of being held down and injected with a needle
- Separation from the mother
The potential benefits of chiropractic care should not be underestimated in addressing these physical traumas. Lowering inflammation by taking stress off the central nervous system can go a long way toward improving feelings of depression.
Toxins (Biochemical Stressors)
Toxins are biochemical stressors that may be either natural or synthetic. Toxins associated with autism include:
- Mercury toxicity – From the mother’s environment and toxic load during pregnancy, vaccines and other medical interventions, and amalgam fillings. 
- Aluminum toxicity – Again, aluminum may come from the mother’s toxic load during pregnancy, vaccines, and other environmental exposures. Aluminum is toxic to the brain and has been found in high levels in autism patients. 
- Lead toxicity – Lead toxicity is another common contributor to autism spectrum disorders. For those with autism, toxicity is more often due to reduced ability to detoxify it rather than excess exposure. 
- Parasites – Parasitic infections like toxoplasmosis may play a role in autism spectrum disorders. 
- Bacterial imbalance or infections – Bacterial overgrowth, dysbiosis, or infections may also contribute to autism, evidenced in the fact that fecal transplants have been beneficial 
- Viral infections – Retroviruses may also contribute to autism 
- Non-native EMFs – Man-made electromagnetic fields such as WIFI may also play a role in autism. Switching to hardwired devices may be helpful for reducing symptoms. 
- Food allergies – Chronic gut and brain inflammation from food allergies can set the stage for deposits of toxic metals there. 
Traumas and toxins are made worse by negative thought patterns and emotional stress.
Thoughts (Emotional Stressors)
Emotional stress in the mother can contribute to emotional stress in the pre-born baby, infant, or toddler. Emotional stress is another contributor to chronic inflammation in the gut and brain and may contribute to autistic tendencies.
The Wellness Way Approach to Autism
At The Wellness Way, we dig deeper to solve the health challenges others can’t. We start with testing to see where there may be imbalances and then develop a personalized nutrition and supplement plan to help your body heal itself.
Important Tests for Assessing Your Gut and Brain Health
Here are some commonly recommended tests at The Wellness Way:
Testing depends on which ones the Wellness Way practitioner considers most important based on symptoms, developmental history, and health history. Additional in-depth testing may be needed based on individual factors. That’s why it’s good to work with a Wellness Way practitioner throughout the child’s development.
Dietary Changes for Children with Autism
First, we must lower inflammation so the gut can heal. That means avoiding food allergies and following a personalized nutrition program, as recommended by the Wellness Way practitioner. These are some additional guidelines for those with autism:
- No sugar or processed foods – Both increase inflammation. Balancing blood sugar is also important for avoiding certain behavioral problems.
- Gluten-free, mostly grain-free – Gluten is known to aggravate the gut lining, contributing to chronic inflammation in the gut and brain. A gluten-free diet may help lower inflammation and allow the gut to heal. 
- No cow’s milk dairy products – Goat and sheep’s milk products may be better tolerated –and even beneficial. 
- Avoid high omega-6 vegetable oils, like corn, canola, soybean, cottonseed oil, sunflower, grapeseed, and others, which can alter the omega-6 to omega-3 balance to be more inflammatory.  Instead, use fruit oils like olive, coconut, avocado, and palm oil; or animal fats like beef tallow, bacon grease, and duck fat.
- Consume an overall low carbohydrate, non-inflammatory diet of organic whole foods.
- Follow a Personalized Nutrition Program, based on food allergy test results.
- Specific nutrient-dense foods: Liver/organ meats, sauerkraut, and microgreens for added nutrition.
- Focus on antioxidants – Including things like turmeric, green tea, berries, dark chocolate, and foods high in polyphenols can help combat oxidative stress and keep inflammation under control.
- Omega-3-rich foods – Wild-caught salmon, herring, sardines, walnuts, and ground flaxseeds provide omega-3 fatty acids and help lower inflammation. 
Following a healthy diet is essential for reducing inflammation in the body, but supplements can support healing of the gut and brain.
Supplements For Those with Autism
Herbal medicine and other dietary supplements can be incredibly supportive. They can also improve a person’s overall sense of well-being. Here are some natural remedies for autism support:
- Megabiotic – Improving the gut microbiota through the addition of probiotics may improve some symptoms of autism. 
- Well-Zyme Complex – Those with autism may benefit from taking digestive enzymes with their meals. Researchers have found autism patients with GI symptoms often have digestive enzyme deficiencies that lead to malabsorption and nutritional deficiencies. Supplementation may help. 
- Ginkgo leaf – Ginkgo extract was shown in studies to improve autistic behaviors, including poor eye contact, hyperactivity, impatience, and improper speech. 
- Bacopa – Bacopa can improve brain function in those with autism by reducing glutamate accumulation and restoring the architecture of the cerebellum in the brain. It also helped reduce anxiety. 
- Green Tea Extract/L-theanine – This amino acid has neuroprotective properties that may slow the decline of Purkinje cells, common in autism. 
- Alcedonia – Our supplement Alcedonia combines vitamins, minerals, and amino acids that work together to support healthy neurotransmitter production, calming the brain.
- Vitamin C – Vitamin C is an antioxidant that can lower stress in the brain.
- Vitamin D – Vitamin D deficiencies are common in those with autism. Supplementing may be helpful for symptoms. 
- Melatonin – Children with autism tend to have a reduced ability to produce melatonin, leading to sleep deficits and behavioral issues. Melatonin supplements are showing promise in alleviating those complaints. 
- Fish Oil – Fish oil provides omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to lower inflammation, support healthy cell membranes, and modify signaling proteins like neurotransmitters. 
- Increase glutathione – Glutathione and other antioxidants tend to be low in those with autism, and the supplement N-acetylcysteine (NAC) increases glutathione production in the body. In studies, NAC has been shown to be helpful in reducing irritability in children with autism. 
Each person is different – herbal remedies that work for one child may not work for another. Part of that is due to body chemistry, including genetics and allergenic responses, and part is due to differences in the contributing causes.
Lifestyle Changes & Complementary Therapies for Autism
Other natural treatments for autism are lifestyle changes and other therapies that bring balance to the brain, such as the following:
- Regular chiropractic care – Misalignments in the skull, upper neck, and pelvis are common in autism and may occur via birth or other early traumas. Researchers believe chiropractic adjustments may improve sensorimotor integration in those with autism. 
Be a well-informed parent! Here are some resources for learning more.
Educational Resources for Autism
Videos & Webinars Related to Autism
Articles to Support Those With Autism
- Why You Should Get Your Baby Adjusted
- World Autism Awareness Day— “Don’t judge what you don’t understand”
- Acetaminophen Linked to Autism Spectrum Disorders and ADHD in Children
- Autism and Family Dynamics
CONNECT WITH US!
We invite you to connect with us! Find an event at a clinic near you! Follow us on social media. Tune in to A Different Perspective each Saturday morning LIVE to get cutting-edge training directly from Dr. Patrick Flynn. Set up a no-obligation health consult with one of our doctors today. The best is yet to come! Think differently – and THRIVE. While autism can certainly bring challenges, there are also plenty of opportunities to see the world through someone else’s eyes. To learn how best to support those with autism, reach out to a Wellness Way clinic today. We are here to help!
- What is Autism Spectrum Disorder? | CDC
- Signs and Symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorders | CDC
- Autism Spectrum Disorder, Family Health History, and Genetics | CDC
- Treatment and Intervention Services for Autism Spectrum Disorder | NCBDDD | CDC
- Medication Treatment for Autism | NICHD – Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (nih.gov)
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- Fish oil and depression: The skinny on fats – PMC (nih.gov)
- A randomized controlled pilot trial of oral N-acetylcysteine in children with autism – PubMed (nih.gov)
- A systematic review of the literature on the chiropractic care of patients with autism spectrum disorder – PubMed (nih.gov)