Autism Spectrum Disorder

What Is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Autism spectrum disorder is a developmental disorder characterized by impairments in sensory, language, social, emotional and behavior areas. It is a “spectrum disorder,” with manifestations ranging from mild to severe.

What Your Doctor May Tell You About Autism

Traditional practitioners believe that autism is a mystery. They may say that, “We have little knowledge of possible causes, and that treatments should address impairments in the processing of touch, movement, audition and vision, speech, language, and behavior. Accompanying physical issues such as allergies, breathing problems, gastrointestinal issues, and others are unrelated to the diagnosis.”

Another Way to Think About Autism

Autism spectrum disorder is a multi-system developmental disorder caused by an accumulation of environmental stressors turning on a genetically susceptible predisposition to the condition. Just like a bridge that collapses when a heavily laden truck crosses it, the body collapses into autism as the multiple triggers add up. Depending upon the triggers, different systems are affected in each individual, related to his/her bioindividuality.

Autism can be related to:

The good news is that you can heal the symptoms of autism by rebalancing the body and bringing it back to health. This requires removing the possible triggers from the external and internal environment, and adding necessary nutrients through food and supplementation.

Autism, ADD/ADHD and SPD Comorbidities

Knowledgeable practitioners have found that roughly 30-50% of children with autism, ADD/ADHD and Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) also have PANS PANDAS. These are newer diagnoses that your child’s pediatrician or psychiatrist may not be aware of. They are disorders that are loosely defined as a sudden onset of acute anxiety and mood variability accompanied by OCD (Obsessive  Compulsive Disorder) and/or tics.

PANDAS stands for Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal Infections. With PANDAS, the onset of symptoms is typically preceded by streptococcal -A infection (“strep throat”). However, in some cases, children may not have presented with a full-blown, acute strep throat infection.

PANDAS is included in the larger umbrella of PANS, Pediatric Acute-onset Neuropsychiatric Syndrome. PANS includes not only PANDAS, but also diagnoses such as Lyme disease, OCD and ODD. In addition, it is very common for younger siblings of children diagnosed with autism, ADD/ADHD or Sensory Processing Disorder to be diagnosed themselves with PANS and PANDAS.

If this is the case, consider that your older child may have PANS PANDAS as well. In many cases, these children have both a PANDAS diagnosis as well as that of Lyme disease.

Autoimmune Encephalitis

Another way to think of PANS PANDAS, as well as any neurodevelopmental disorder such as autism, ADD/ADHD, Sensory Processing Disorder and even learning disabilities, is that these disorders may fall under the larger umbrella of autoimmune encephalitis (AE). This is a disorder in which the immune system attacks the brain, impairing function.

Encephalitis is inflammation and swelling of the brain, often due to infection, which in many of these cases causes an autoimmune attack on the microglia cells of the brain. A child with this type of damage may typically never have or may lose motor skills and/or the ability to speak, similar to an adult who has had a stroke.

Encephalitis is a common symptom of this type of damage, and it often shows up as an increase in the child’s head-circumference percentile, especially in the first year of life. The prestigious science journal Nature pointed this out by stating that “brain volume overgrowth was linked to the emergence and severity of autistic social deficits.”

Anti-NDMA Receptor Encephalitis

The N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor (also known as the NMDA receptor), is a glutamate receptor found in nerve cells.  It is activated when the amino acids glutamate and glycine bind to it. NMDA receptors have been implicated by a number of studies to be strongly involved with excitotoxicity, the process by which nerve cells are damaged or killed by excessive stimulation by neurotransmitters such as glutamate. Excitoxicity can cause encephalopathy and seizures.

Glutamate and its analogs are found in processed foods not only as MSG (monosodium glutatmate), but also in chemical food additives such as:

  • Hydrolyzed vegetable protein
  • Soy protein isolate
  • Yeast extract
  • Gelatin
  • Barley malt
  • Bouillon
  • Natural flavoring
  • Artificial flavoring
  • Soy sauce

Even natural foods such as tomatoes, bone broth and seaweed may naturally have high levels of glutamate. Strep also increases glutamate in the brain.

Autism Healing Checklist

  • Have your child screened for services from the local public school, even if your child does not attend. The law mandates that you are entitled to free services from birth.
  • Seek out a local support group for families of children with special needs.

Make Lifestyle Changes

  • Get a good night's sleep
  • Get outside every day
  • Get an hour of exercise or movement per day
  • Sync circadian rhythm by getting up when the sun does and going to bed after it sets
  • Limit screen time as much as possible
  • Use blue-blocking lightbulbs and glasses at night, especially when looking at screens
  • Put bare feet in wet ground when possible
  • Drink half body weight in ounces of water

Eat a Clean Diet

Use Only High-Quality Fats

  • Coconut oil
  • Olive oil (unheated)
  • Avocados
  • Medium-Chain Triglycerides (MCT) oil
  • Grass-fed ghee
  • Duck fat
  • Grass-fed beef tallow
  • Cod liver oil (unheated)
  • Walnut oil (unheated)

Remove Vegetable Oils and Trans Fats

  • Canola
  • Corn
  • Soy
  • Safflower
  • Sunflower
  • Hydrogenated vegetable oils (Crisco, etc.)
  • Margarine

Include High-Quality Protein with Every Meal

  • Pasture-raised eggs, chicken and other fowl
  • Grass-fed beef, lamb and other red meats
  • Wild-caught fish
  • Legumes
  • Nuts

Eliminate High-Glutamate Foods

These foods and ingredients can exacerbate neurological symptoms because of the excitoxicity they cause in the brain. These are some of the most-common, high-glutamate foods to remove:

  • Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
  • Hydrolyzed vegetable protein
  • Soy protein isolate
  • Yeast extract
  • Gelatin
  • Barley malt
  • Bouillon
  • Natural flavors
  • Artificial flavors
  • Soy sauce
  • Corn starch
  • Others

Add Fermented Foods and Probiotics

These will keep the gastrointestinal system and microbiome healthy and strong which in turn will keep the immune system strong.

  • Eat kefir yogurts, if dairy is tolerated
  • Eat fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut and kim chi
  • Eat umeboshi plums, which are very alkalizing
  • Eat miso soup, if soy is tolerated
  • Take a quality probiotic, such as VSL #3, Gut Pro, Dr. Ohirra’s Live Cultured Probiotics, Garden of Life, Klaire Labs. Work with your practitioner for a more targeted probiotic.

Optimize Blood Sugar

Blood sugar that is too high can lead to excess inflammation and hormonal imbalances.

Blood sugar that is too low can lead to attention and behavioral problems.

We recommend keeping blood sugar optimized so that it's neither too low nor too high.

Do an Elimination Diet

Children with chronic health conditions often have hidden food sensitivities and intolerances that exacerbate their symptoms. With an elimination diet, remove potentially inflammatory foods such as:

  • Casein
  • Gluten
  • Soy
  • Corn
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Shellfish
  • Nuts
  • Peanuts

Clean up Your Environment

  • Identify and remove possible environmental triggers, such as mold, dust, pet dander, and electromagnetic fields (EMFs)
  • Identify and remove possible toxic exposures in the home from purchased products, such as detergents, soaps, lotions, and other cleaning and personal care products
  • Remove animals (both live and stuffed!)
  • Remove carpets
  • Use non-toxic cleaners
  • Use non-toxic building materials

Lower Stress Levels

Viruses, bacteria and other pathogens become more active when the body is in a state of stress.

By teaching your child ways to self-regulate with practices such as prayer, reiki, meditation, yoga, qi gong, tai chi and the Emotional Freedom Technique (tapping), they can become good advocates for themselves and become active participants in the recovery process.

Practitioners of techniques such as EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization Retraining) and jin shin jyutsu can lower stress levels for your child, as well.

See a Homeopath, Naturopath or Homotoxicologist

These practitioners can diagnose and treat gastrointestinal disorders naturally so that the child’s immune, sensory, neurological and nervous systems develop without being compromised.

Ask Your Practitioner to Run Some Laboratory Tests

  • Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay (ELISA) for possible food sensitivities and allergies
  • Nutritional deficiencies in vitamins and minerals, especially vitamin D
  • NutrEval by Genova Diagnostics Labs for malabsorption, gut dysbiosis, cellular energy, mitochondrial metabolism, neurotransmitter metabolism, vitamin deficiencies, toxin exposure and detoxification need
  • Organic Acid Test (OAT) for yeast overgrowth, other microbial infections and oxalates
  • Inflammation markers such as C-Reactive Protein (CRP)
  • Fasting blood sugar and insulin levels
  • Comprehensive Digestive Stool Analysis (CDSA)

Have Your Child Tested for PANS/PANDAS

Pathogenic infections and environmental offenders can cross the blood-brain barrier and cause neurological symptoms known collectively as PANS/PANDAS. However, not many practitioners know how to test for and treat these conditions. Common tests are:

  • Serum Anti-Streptolysin O (ASO) titer
  • Serum Anti-Streptococcal DNase B (ASDB) titer
  • Cunningham panel
  • Lyme disease and Lyme co-infections
  • Specific viruses, especially herpetic viruses
  • Mycoplasma pneumoniae infection
  • Heavy metals and other toxins
  • Mold

Use Digestive Aids with your Practitioner's Guidance

  • Betaine hydrochloric acid
  • Digestive enzymes with DPP-IV for gluten and casein intolerances
  • Proteolytic enzymes
  • BiCarb
  • Bromelain
  • Papaya

Use Supplements with Your Practitioner's Guidance

Always work with your practitioner to determine the brand, type and dosage of supplements. Common supplements include the following:

  • Cod liver oil
  • Probiotics
  • Vitamin D3
  • Methylated B complex vitamins
  • GABA, especially PharmaGABA
  • N-acetylcysteine (NAC)
  • Magnesium, zinc, selenium, iodine and other minerals
  • Others

Help Your Child Detoxify

  • Make sure your child is pooping every day. Learn more about how to clear up constipation and diarrhea.
  • Have your child exercise or move every day. Sweating carries toxins out of the body.
  • See a homotoxicologist, naturopath or homeopath for drainage remedies and detoxification aids.
  • Optimize blood sugar to allow the liver to spend more time detoxing rather than processing sugar.
  • Ionic foot baths can help detox unwanted pathogens and are easy to do with children.
  • Infared saunas can detox heavy metals through the skin by sweating. However, this form of detoxification may not be suitable for young children who lack the ability to sweat.
  • Epsom salt baths add sulfur transdermally to help with detox.

Integrate Retained Primitive Reflexes

Most, if not all, children with neurodevelopmental disorders including learning disabilities, have retained primitive reflexes.

Find a therapist that is trained in integrating primitive reflexes, which can cause imbalances in the way your child's brain performs.

See a Chiropractic Neurologist

Chiropractic neurology is patient focused and utilizes the latest assessment techniques to create an individualized protocol to rehabilitate the central nervous system and develop neuroplasticity (changes in the brain) when addressing neurological conditions.

Children with developmental delays, cognitive issues and deficits have improper communication between the right and left sides of the brain.

See a Behavioral/Developmental Optometrist

A developmental optometrist can check for convergence and tracking problems with your child's vision. He or she can correct these issues with vision therapy, lens and prisms. Doing so can improve hand-eye coordination and school performance.

See a Craniosacral Practitioner

Craniosacral therapy can reestablish central nervous system functioning. These practitioners use approaches rich in vestibular, proprioceptive and tactile input and may also do oral motor therapy.

See a Neurofeedback Practitioner

Neurofeedback is approved as a level-one intervention by the American Academy of Pediatrics for ADD and ADHD, which are learning disabilities.

Even if your child doesn't have ADD or ADHD, they may still benefit from neurofeedback.

Find a practitioner that can perform a QEEG (quantitative electroencephalograph) brain map first so you can understand how your child's brain works.

See a Sensory-Integration Occupational Therapist

These occupational therapists address a variety of sensory issues with a child using hands-on equipment. This type of therapy calms down the nervous system to help integrate the senses and retained reflexes.

See a Chiropractor

A chiropractor can perform spinal cord adjustments, which can improve communication in the nervous system.

See an Auditory Therapist

Many children with learning disabilities have auditory processing problems that may be causing problems with focus and concentration.

An auditory therapist can devise a listening program that is specific to your child's needs. These programs can retrain the brain, calm down the nervous system and reduce sound sensitivities.

Find a Brain Gym Practitioner

A Brain Gym practitioner can have your child do exercises for sensorimotor coordination, self-calming and self-management.

Work with a Health Coach

Our Epidemic Answers health coaches are trained to understand the root causes of your child's chronic health condition.

They provide hands-on helping with the practical matters of healing such as cooking healthy foods, removing toxins from the household and helping you work more efficiently with your practitioner.

See an Acupuncturist

Acupuncture can help lower stress and anxiety associated with sensory processing. It can also help with blood-sugar and hormonal regulation.

See a NAET or BioSET Practitioner

Children with chronic health conditions typically also have food allergies and/or food sensitivities and intolerances.

NAET (Namudripad's Allergy Elimination Technique) and BioSET are two non-invasive methods of allergy elimination.

Use Sensory Therapies and Tools

Still Looking for Answers?

Visit the Epidemic Answers Practitioner Directory to find a practitioner near you.

Join us inside our online membership community for parents, Healing Together, where you’ll find even more healing resources, expert guidance, and a community to support you every step of your child’s healing journey.

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Brandes, Bonnie. The Symphony of Reflexes: Interventions for Human Development, Autism, ADHD, CP, and Other Neurological Disorders, 2016.

Cahalan, Susannah. Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness. Simon & Schuster, 2013.

Campbell-McBride, Natasha. Gut and Psychology Syndrome: Natural Treatment for Autism, Dyspraxia, A.D.D., Dyslexia, A.D.H.D., Depression, Schizophrenia, 2010.

Giustra-Kozek, Jennifer. Healing without hurting: treating ADHD, apraxia, and autism spectrum disorders naturally and effectively without harmful medication. Howard Beach, NY: Changing Lives Press, 2014.

Handley, J.B. How to End the Autism Epidemic. Chelsea Green Publishing, 2019.

Herbert, Martha, Weintraub Karen. The Autism Revolution: Whole-Body Strategies for Making Life All It Can Be. New York: Ballantine Books; 2012.

Hong, Maria Rickert. Almost Autism: Recovering Children from Sensory Processing Disorder, A Reference for Parents and Practitioners. 2014.

Kaufman, Raun K. Autism breakthrough: the groundbreaking method that has helped families all over the world. First edition. ed. New York: St. Martin’s Press; 2014. x, 353 p.p.

Lambert, Beth, et al. Brain Under Attack: A Resource for Parents and Caregivers of Children with PANS, PANDAS, and Autoimmune Encephalitis. Answers Publications, 2018.

Lemer, Patricia S. Outsmarting Autism: The Ultimate Guide to Management, Healing and Prevention for Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Tarentum, PA, Word Association Publishers, 2014.

O’Hara, Nancy. Demystifying PANS/PANDAS: A Functional Medicine Desktop Reference on Basal Ganglia Encephalitis. DPWN Publishing, 2022.

Romaniec, Mary. Victory Over Autism: Lessons on Raising an Autism-Free Child. New York, NY: Skyhorse Publishing, 2015.

Scott, Trudy. The Antianxiety Food Solution: How the Foods You Eat Can Help You Calm Your Anxious Mind, Improve Your Mood and End Cravings. New Harbinger Publications, 2011.

Sears, Robert W. The Autism Book: What Every Parent Needs to Know about Early Detection, Treatment, Recovery, and Prevention. 1st ed. New York, NY: Little, Brown, 2010.

Seroussi, Karyn. Unraveling the Mystery of Autism and Pervasive Developmental Disorder: A Mother’s Story of Research and Recovery. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000.

Wachter, Kenneth W., et al. Offspring: Human Fertility Behavior in Biodemographic Perspective. National Academy of Sciences, 2003.

Presentations

Pall, Martin. EMFs and Chemicals as the Main Drivers of the Autism Epidemic: Mechanisms of Action. AutismOne Conference, 2017.

Websites

Amy Yasko’s list of foods with high free glutamates

BioROSA Technologies

Clear Light Ventures

Katie Reid’s pantry list of recommended foods.

Unblind My Mind: Dr. Katie Reid’s website gives extensive explanation about the science, a TED talk by Dr. Reid and video tutorials to help parent’s discern appropriate foods in a local supermarket.

Videos

Excitotoxins, Neurotoxins & Human Neurological Disease Lecture by Russell Blaylock MD

Glutamate, Excitoxicity and Autism

Peter Sullivan: Understanding Autism

Spellers the Movie

Unblind My Mind: What Are We Eating? Dr. Katherine Reid at TEDxYouth@GrassValley

 

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