Autistc Spectrum Disorders (ASD), include autism, regressive autism, Aspergers and any pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), all of which are characterised as , neurodevelopmental disorders which include repetitive behaviours, social withdrawal and communication deficits.
Some of these become obvious at birth whilst others become obvious as developmental milestones are not reached. According to the Mindd Foundation this includes those with a wide range of cognitive ability, ranging from mental retardation to high functioning adults with above average IQ!
How are Autism Spectrum Disorders Diagnosed?
ASD is considered a psychiatric disorder and diagnosis is made on the observation of signs and symptoms without any biochemical testing required to make the diagnosis, there is evidence which shows many commonly shared biochemical issues in these children.
These include an extensive array of digestive disorders, decreased capacity to detoxify, accumulation of heavy metals, methylation problems, pyrrole issues, immune issues, mitochondrial dysfunction and cerebral hypofusion. Everyone with ASD presents with their own uniqueness, each individual needing more or less emphasis in particular areas.
Signs and Symptoms
The below Signs and Symptoms (Including diagnostic criteria) have been taken directly from the Mindd Foundation.
Qualitative impairment in social interaction, as manifested by at least 2 of the following:
- Marked impairment in the use of multiple nonverbal behaviours such as eye-to-eye gaze, facial expression, body postures, and gestures to regulate social interaction
- Failure to develop peer relationships appropriate to developmental level
- A lack of spontaneous seeking to share enjoyment, interests, or achievements with other people (e.g., by a lack of showing, bringing, or pointing out objects of interests)
- Lack of social or emotional reciprocity
Qualitative impairments in communication, as manifested by at least 1 of the following:
- Delay in, or total lack of, development of spoken language (not accompanied by an attempt to compensate through alternative modes of communication such as gestures or mime)
- In individuals with adequate speech, marked impairment in the ability to initiate or sustain conversation with others
- Stereotyped and repetitive use of language or idiosyncratic language
- Lack of varied, spontaneous make-believe play or social imitative play appropriate to developmental level
Restricted repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behaviour, interests, and activities, as manifested by at least one of the following:
- Encompassing preoccupation with one or more stereotyped and restricted patterns of interest that is abnormal either in intensity or in focus
- Apparently inflexible adherence to specific, nonfunctional routines or rituals
- Stereotyped and repetitive motor mannerisms (e.g., hand or finger flapping or twisting, or complex whole body movements)
- Persistent preoccupation with parts of objects
Characteristic deviant communication features in autism include a lack of social chat, pragmatic deficits, pronoun reversal, delayed echolalia, neologisms, lack of emotion in speech, phrase repetitions, and idiosyncratic use of language. Behavioural manifestations frequently involve repetitive, self-stimulatory behaviour, especially in more severely affected individuals. This behaviour can be self-injurious in some, as with arm biting, head slapping, and skin picking.
The interesting thing is that when we read the above list of signs and symptoms, many children (and adults for that matter) not diagnosed with ASD sit just on the outer rim of this diagnosis, displaying a somewhat diluted version of these symptoms. I would hazzard a guess many slip through the cracks of this diagnosis, as they are considered “normal functioning” but parents either suspect something is not quite right or just think they have a less than well behaved child. Whilst the overt levels of ASD are easily identified and get the attention deserved, those not so obvious may be going under the radar.
It can be useful to become very interested in the symptoms, rather than the diagnosis, as children as well as many adults, may not fit the diagnostic box! Symptoms worth noticing, that are also often shared with those with ASD, include allergies, sleep issues, headaches, migraines, digestive issues (see below for exactly what that may present as), asthma, learning delays, poor concentration (poor grades, easily distracted etc) and mood disorders (anxiety, depression, OCD etc).
Children cannot and don’t always have the ability to articulate their symptoms, so parents need to read between the lines – a child may hold their stomach or head, signifying pain in these areas, they may be fussy with food because it hurts to eat (reflux or stomach pain) or they may not sleep because they are anxious. Many of these issues can be identified by parents and rectified early by using natural treatments which go on to serve the child in the longer term.
The Gut – Brain Conection
When it comes to these abnormalities top of the list are digestive issues which can appear as constipation, diarrhea, pebble stools, excessive flactulence, varied colour (yellow,red, green, black, white, grey), undigested stool, reflux, colic, foul smelling stools, foul smelling breath, protuberant belly, poor or picky appetite and stomach pain. This usually indicates one or more of the following – a disruption to beneficial bacteria, inflammatory bowel disease, parasites and/or yeast or bacterial overgrowth’s.
Yet, conventional management does not place considerable testing and treatment in this area, even though research clearly shows the influence between our gut health and our brain health. If we don’t treat the gut, its like trying to start a car with little or no petrol – its just not going to be able to go where you want it to go.
Dr Natasha Campbell-McBride considers the gut, the first brain, and speculates that by 2020 half of all kids will fit the spectrum.
Detoxification & Immune Problems
Impairments in detoxification are another major issue in those with ASD, this is likely due to genetic issues found in a process called methylation (you can read more on methylation in relation to MTHFR and histamine) and due to issues in digestion (one of our major sources of elimination).
Problems with digestion then impacts the liver, the major director of detoxification. Our digestion is also a key player in our immune responses, which is heavily dependent on our beneficial bacteria and on nutrients such as amino acids, zinc and vitmain D.
Biochemical testing is available and commonly shows issues in these areas.
Testing is wise to clearly identify problem areas and focus treatment. Treatment includes rectifying digestive issues, by restoring beneficial bacteria microbiota, eliminating pathogens, parasites, bacterial and yeast overgrowth and eliminating food allergies and intolerance’s.
Identifying and tracking, common deficiencies/excesses for iron, zinc, copper, vitamin D, A, E, essential fats, vitamin B12, folate, vitamin B6, iodine, selenium,magnesium, calcium – the requirement of these may be higher than in other individuals. Reducing chemical exposure and environmental toxins, heavy metals and environmental pollutants can be tested for so removal can be targeted, improving mitochondrial health and oxidative stress.
Using diet to ensure healthy blood sugar levels and addressing sleep hygiene are also extremely important.
Each individual will differ with the extent of treatment required in the various areas.
Conclusion & Theories
Is ASD a result of major genetic influences negatively impacting the normal detoxification pathways? As we are now exposed to more chemicals in one day than our ancestors where in their entire lifetime, the issue of detoxification becomes even more critical. So each toxic load becomes another “straw on the camels back”.
The status of a child’s beneficial bacteria inherited, influences digestion, triggering a cascade of digestive issues which further impacts detoxification, effects the production of neurotransmitters, impacts immunity, resulting in allergies, food intolerance’s, autoimmunity and inflammation. The extent of genetics and load together may well influence the outcome, and should become a major part of treatment, for those with ASD and for so many children and adults who sit on the outskirts of this diagnosis.
Can we change the current trend which relies on prescription medication, to move toward rectifying all that has been discussed above, as a first line of treatment and keep medications as a “last resort”? Is the current system encouraging our children to go from legal drugs to illegal drugs as adults, as their only solution?
In an ideal world, much can be done to educate and influence symptoms with targeted dietary and lifestyle changes, having a huge impact on quality of living, for all involved, and setting the scene for children and adults to understand how to identify when changes are needed to influence their symptoms, not only for those diagnosed ASD but also for those living just outside this diagnosis.
- Information and references have been taken from the Mindd International Practitioner Forum 2015 and Mindd resource and reference site.
- Hechtman Leah, 2012, Clinical Naturopathic Medicine, revised ed, Elsevier Australia, Chatswood, NSW.
Image credit:Savannah Lewis