What Are Common Neurological Symptoms in Our Kids?
When children do not meet speech/language, motor, or other developmental milestones, doctors usually assume that the child has neurological symptoms.
Speech and language issues can be receptive, expressive, or both.
Motor issues include, but are not limited to:
- Inability to roll over, crawl, walk, or stand
- Inability to imitate, focus, concentrate, or follow directions
- Low muscle tone (hypotonia)
- Mood changes
- Behavioral problems
- High anxiety
- Coping issues
- Socialization impairment
- Metabolic abnormalities
The word “neurological” refers to the nervous system, which is comprised of the brain, the spinal cord and a massive circuitry of nerves.
The brain, the most complex organ in our body, is the center of the nervous system.
Often brain symptoms, such as difficulties with word finding or other memory problems are the first sign of neurological issues.
Certain symptoms also fall under the category of neurological issues, such as:
- Poor reflex responses
- Difficulties with speech/language
- Movement difficulties
The possible causes of neurological issues are many; they could be due to:
- Environmental causes
- Structural causes
- Biochemical causes
- Accident or injury to the brain
- Loss of oxygen at birth
- Genetic chromosomal disorder
- Combination of these triggers
Children who display the following symptoms should be evaluated for underlying gut dysbiosis and immune dysregulation by an integrative pediatrician or holistic practitioner:
- Persistent toe-walking (always walking on tip-toes)
- Delays in crawling, walking, talking
- Large motor delays–difficulties completing age-appropriate physical tasks
- Sideways glancing
- Sensory defensiveness or sensory-seeking behavior
- Pressure-seeking behavior
- Obsessive or compulsive type behaviors
- Persistent aggressive behavior
- Persistent non-compliant or oppositional behavior
- Tics (verbal or physical)
- Frequent temper tantrums (multiple times a day)
- Frequent crying, sadness, anger (multiple times a day)
What Your Doctor May Tell You About Your Child’s Neurological Symptoms
Your child’s doctor may suggest having your child seen by a specialist, such as a neurologist, a psychiatrist, a speech pathologist, an ophthalmologist, an audiologist, or a geneticist to obtain further information about what is going on neurologically with your child.
Your doctor may send you to a pediatric hospital or neurological center.
Most physicians will be insistent that parents act quickly, as time is of the essence when dealing with neurological issues.
Another Way to Think About Neurological Symptoms
Medicine is beginning to understand that neurological issues may not begin in the nervous system, but rather could be the result of broader imbalances in the body that affect the brain.
Eminent Harvard neurologist Martha Herbert PhD, MD, questioned whether autism was “a brain disorder or a disorder that affects the brain.”
Researchers today are revisiting what Chinese medicine discovered over 3,000 years ago: that the gut microbiome (housed in the body’s gastrointestinal tract) is critical to overall health, and the gut, the immune system’s headquarters, is tightly connected to the brain.
Anything that impacts the gut and the immune system can also impact the brain.
This is known as the gut-brain-immune axis.
When the microbiome is healthy, so is the nervous system; when it is not, a person can have neurological, mood or behavioral symptoms–all things long thought to be “all in the head.”
The opposite is also true: neurons and neurotransmitters in the brain can affect the microbiome.
Some researchers now realize that traditional psychiatric illnesses, or mental health disorders, are all also related to the relationship between the gut, the immune system and the brain.
When children do not reach their developmental milestones, or when they exhibit ‘brain-based’ or neurological symptoms, think first about what’s happening in the gastrointestinal tract, which, in turn, affects the immune system and the brain.
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.
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).
Autoimmune encephalitis 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
- Barley malt
- 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.
Neurological Symptoms Checklist to Start
Consider lifestyle contribution:
- Is your child getting 10 hours of sleep per night (or more if your child is under 10)?
- An hour of exercise or movement per day?
- Drinking half his body weight in ounces of water?
Make dietary changes:
Is your child craving and eating primarily a refined carbohydrate, high sugar, trans-fatty acids and fast food diet?
Eliminate all processed foods, and eat a whole foods diet.
Gluten- and dairy-containing foods are commonly known to produce an inability to focus when eaten.
- Eat whole foods
- Buy organic foods
- Remove all GMO foods
- Remove all fast and processed foods
- Remove all foods with:
- Artificial colors
- Artificial ingredients
- With an elimination diet, remove potentially inflammatory foods such as:
- Strictly limit:
- Refined salt
- Refined carbohydrates
- Consider implementing a low glutamate diet and/or the Feingold diet
Include plenty of good quality fats, such as:
- Coconut oil
- Olive oil
- Wild salmon
- Organic chicken
- Organic turkey
- Grass-fed ghee
- Pasture-raised eggs
- Grass-fed beef
- Essential fatty acids from:
- Cod liver oil
- Hemp seeds
- Flax seeds
- Evening primrose oil
- Borage oil
- Walnut oil
Remove vegetable oils such as:
Include plenty of high-quality proteins with every meal, such as:
- Pasture-raised eggs and chicken
- Grass-fed beef
- Wild-caught fish
Heal the gut with special diets such as:
- GAPS (Gut And Psychology Syndrome) diet
- Paleo diet
- GF/CF (gluten-free/casein-free) diet
- Body Ecology Diet
- Modified Atkins Diet (replaces the Ketogenic diet)
Learn more about healing diets and foods.
Use digestive aids with your practitioner’s guidance:
- Betaine hydrochloric acid
- Digestive enzymes with DPP-IV for gluten and casein intolerances
- Proteolytic enzymes
Clean up your environment:
Have you identified and removed possible environmental triggers, such as mold, dust, pet dander, and electromagnetic fields (EMFs)?
Have you identified and removed 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
- Green your home
Ask your pediatrician to run some laboratory tests for:
- Possible food sensitivities and allergies
- Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay (ELISA) IgG, IgA, IgE and IgM
- Nutritional deficiencies in vitamins and minerals. The NutrEval by Genova Diagnostics Labs covers the following areas:
- Cellular energy
- Mitochondrial metabolism
- Neurotransmitter metabolism
- Vitamin deficiencies
- Toxin exposure
- Detoxification need
- Bacterial and yeast overgrowth
- Gluten and casein sensitivities
- Organic acids: The organic acid test by Great Plains Laboratory for yeast overgrowth and Candida, oxalates, and other microbial infections
Add fermented foods and probiotics daily:
These will keep the gastrointestinal system and microbiome healthy and strong which in turn will keep the immune system strong.
- Eat kefir yogurts
- Eat fermented vegetables
- Eat umeboshi plums (very alkalizing)
- Eat miso soup, if soy is tolerated
Some good probiotics are:
- Gut Pro
- Dr. Ohirra’s Live Cultured Probiotics
- Garden of Life
- Klaire Labs
Use herbs, essential oils and natural supplements with your practitioner’s guidance:
- Cod liver oil
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D3
- B complex vitamins especially pantothenic acid (B5)
- Rescue Remedy
- GABA, especially PharmaGABA
- N-acetylcysteine (NAC): prevents upper respiratory infections for those prone to chronic infections
- MSM transdermal cream
- Epsom salts bath
Help your child detoxify:
- 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.
Learn about 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 at a Brain Balance Center:
The Brain Balance program can help balance the right and left brain hemispheres and make neural connections to extinguish primitive reflexes.
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 (OT):
These OTs 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 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 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 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.
Auditory Integration Therapy (Berard) or Sound Stimulation (Tomatis) can retrain the brain, calm down the nervous system, reduce sound sensitivities.
Find a therapist doing Brain Gym:
A Brain Gym practitioner can have your child do exercises for sensorimotor coordination, self-calming and self-management.
See a homeopath or naturopath:
These practitioners can diagnose and treat gastrointestinal disorders naturally so that the child’s immune, sensory, neurological and nervous systems develop without being compromised.
See a well-trained acupuncturist:
Acpuncture can help lower stress and anxiety associated with sensory processing.
See a NAET or BioSET practitioner:
Children with Sensory Processing Disorder 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.
Sensory therapies and tools:
- Super brain yoga
- Rock climbing
- Weighted vests, blanket and belts
- HANDLE therapy
- Sensory Learning
- Tool Chest
- Squeeze Machine
- Music therapy
- Sensory gym
- Deep pressure brushing therapy
- Sensory tactile toys
Still Looking for Answers?
- 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.
- Ask your doctor to run basic blood, urine, and stool tests for baselines on function. Be sure and include a test for vitamin D, which is not routine.
- Do genetic mutation testing to look for difficulties with detoxification and other biological processes.
- Test for neurotransmitter functioning. Ask your physician about how to improve and balance neurotransmitters.
- See a MAPS physician (Medical Academy of Pediatric Special Needs)
- Seek out a local support group for families of children with special needs.
Visit the Epidemic Answers Provider Directory to find a practitioner near you.
Sources & References
Hyman, M.A. Is the Cure for Brain Disorders Outside the Brain? Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine. Nov-Dec 2007;13(6):10-5.
Winter, C., et al. Dopamine and serotonin levels following prenatal viral infection in mouse—implications for psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia and autism. European Neuropsychopharmacology. 2008 Oct;18(10):712-6.