What Are Common Neurological Symptoms in Children?
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. Neurological symptoms include, but are not limited to:
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. Brain symptoms, such as difficulties with word finding or other memory problems, are often the first sign of neurological issues. Certain symptoms also fall under the category of neurological issues, such as:
The possible causes of neurological issues are many; they could be due to:
Children who display the following symptoms should be evaluated for underlying gut dysbiosis and immune dysregulation by an integrative pediatrician or holistic practitioner:
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.”
The Gut-Brain Axis
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.
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:
- Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
- Hydrolyzed vegetable protein
- Soy protein isolate
- Yeast extract
- Barley malt
- Natural flavoring
- Artificial flavoring
- Soy sauce
Neurological Symptoms Healing Checklist
- Get 10 hours of sleep per night (or more if your child is under 10)
- 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 whole foods
- Buy organic foods
- Eat a clean diet
- Remove all GMO foods
- Remove all fast and processed foods
- Remove all foods with artificial colors, artificial ingredients, artificial flavors, natural flavors, preservatives, phenols and salicylates
- Strictly limit sugars, refined salt and refined carbohydrates
- Consider implementing a low-glutamate diet and/or the Feingold diet
Use Only High-Quality Fats
- Coconut oil
- Olive oil (unheated)
- 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
- Hydrogenated vegetable oils (Crisco, etc.)
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
- Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
- Hydrolyzed vegetable protein
- Soy protein isolate
- Yeast extract
- Barley malt
- Natural flavors
- Artificial flavors
- Soy sauce
- Corn starch
Add Fermented Foods and Probiotics
- 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.
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.
- 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.
- 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)
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
Use Digestive Aids with your Practitioner's Guidance
- Betaine hydrochloric acid
- Digestive enzymes with DPP-IV for gluten and casein intolerances
- Proteolytic enzymes
- Cod liver oil
- Vitamin D3
- Methylated B complex vitamins
- GABA, especially PharmaGABA
- N-acetylcysteine (NAC)
- Magnesium, zinc, selenium, iodine and other minerals
- 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.
Children with developmental delays, cognitive issues and deficits have improper communication between the right and left sides of the brain.
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.
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.
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.
NAET (Namudripad's Allergy Elimination Technique) and BioSET are two non-invasive methods of allergy elimination.
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Sources & References
Hazlett, H.C., et al. Early brain development in infants at high risk for autism spectrum disorder. Nature. 2017 Feb 15;542(7641):348-351.
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.