Autism: What Torments Parents Opens New Avenues For Research


The most important person in the world for an autistic child is the parent, who will advocate for them until they find a way to live the life they want for themselves. However, most people know very little about autism until they find themselves in the midst of trying to deal with the symptoms in a loved one, usually a child.  This tends to lead to a crash course in trying to find out where to get reliable help, support and information, what organizations to contact, what to do when a child is waiting for a statement of special needs and many other things.  All this whilst dealing with the daily reality of a child who may have high dependency on the parent or primary carer.

Autism in the UK accounts for more than 1 in 100 children of school age, which is over 700,000 children. The UK governmennt spends £32bn per year in care and lost earnings to support children and adults with ASD.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 1 in 59 children has been identified with ASD. That means approximately 1 in every 150 people you meet will have ASD, making it one of the most common disabilities in the United States.

In conventional medicine there is ‘no known cure’ for ASD and conventional treatment seems to focus primarily on behaviour.  I would like to put forward another approach based on functional medicine for autism.

What is Autism?

Most people have heard of autism, but many don’t know exactly what it is. Autism is a neurological disorder that affects the way someone communicates and interacts with others. It’s a spectrum disorder, which means that there is a wide range of symptoms and severity. Some people with autism are highly functioning and only need minor accommodations, while others may be nonverbal and need significant support.

There is no one cause of autism, but it is believed to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. There is currently no cure for autism, but there are treatments available that can help manage symptoms and improve quality of life.

If you think your child might be showing signs of autism, it’s important to seek professional help. A diagnosis can be essential in accessing early intervention services and supports. With the right help, children with autism can make significant progress.

Diagnosing autism can be difficult, as there are no medical tests for the condition. The symptoms are typically (but definitely not always) recognized in early childhood, with the average age of diagnosis being four years old.

Natural Treatments for Autism

While there is no known cure for autism, there are a number of natural treatments that fall under the umbrella of functional medicine that can be tailored to meet the individual needs of the person with autism whether they are an adult or a child.

Functional Medicine for Autism

A functional medicine approach to autism follows set steps to personalize the treatment plan.  This individualized approach can lead to creative interventions from expressive arts (drawing, music, writing etc) to spending time in nature, and more practical approaches such as dietary interventions to improve mitochondrial function, detoxification and more.  All treatments are geared towards improving communication, emotional stability, reducing pain or discomfort and bringing out the strengths of the child, whatever they may be.

Further information on the latest research into functional medicine can be found in the institute for functional medicine website here.

Functional medicine Timeline.

Because every person has a very individual expression of ASD, we begin by looking at antecedents (family history and maternal health during pregnancy) and a creating a chronology of life events, symptoms and major influences in that person’s life.  Typically I find spikes in symptoms which then prompts me to ask about what was going on for the child at that time (family, friends, relationships, bereavement, house move, change of school or teachers etc).  Then I think about that in the context of their hormonal balance (especially stress) and the impact that those hormones have on digestive function, cognitive function etc.  All these factors, physical, mental, emotional and even spiritual form part of the timeline to help build a picture of what has brought this particular person to this point. Then I take the symptoms and put them into the Functional Medicine Matrix.

Functional Medicine Matrix

This is when the symptoms are put under headings of each of 7 major systems of the body so that I can identify which system is most out of balance.  I usually find digestion and assimilation to be the key area in clients with ASD, which often leads to leaky gut syndrome.  This in itself, however, is not a diagnosis, it is a symptom of something more that has prompted the poor digestion.

Test, don’t Guess!

Alongside the initial causative investigations, I look at which tests are going to give us the best information about what is happening ‘behind the scenes’ regarding nutrition, gut health, detoxification pathways, hormonal balance, oxidative stress, detoxification pathways, inflammation, mitochondrial function and, of course, methylation which is known to be key in ASD.

All the tests I use are non-invasive i.e. no needles!  They are urine or stool samples that can be collected at home then the courier comes at your convneinece to take the samples off to the laboratory.

Personalized Diet Plans

There is some evidence that certain dietary interventions can help improve symptoms of autism. These include eliminating gluten and casein from the diet, as well as following a specific diet known as the ketogenic diet.  These generic recommendations may well work, but by using the personalized functional testing, I am able to prescribe specific dietary interventions depending on the needs of your child. This could be a detoxification plan, mitochondrial support meal plan, methylation meal plan etc.

The glaring challenge here is that in my experience, many if not most people with autism do not like change, especially in diet and routine!  It is also common for them to have a strong preference for ‘beige’ foods and a very narrow repertoire of what they will agree to eat! 

This is where the personalization of the treatment plan comes in, so the ways around these matters is a much greater subject than this blog post! Suffice to say there are various ways of tackling this key issue depending on the age of the child and the role of the parents and support teams.

Nutritional supplements.

A number of different nutritional supplements have been shown to be helpful in treating autism symptoms. These include omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, vitamin B6, and more, however this is again a generic approach.  The Metabolic Analysis (urine) test will show us exactly which key metabolites are missing and the laboratory will make recommendations on short term supplementation to rebalance the system.  This is often one of the turning points in addressing dietary needs because it can be a ‘quick win’ in improving co-operation from the child as systemic nutritional needs are met.

Herbal Remedies for Autism

A number of different herbs have been shown to be helpful in treating autism symptoms. Obviously there are many common herbs for many of the symptoms but as an herbalist and functional medicine practitioner, I would look at adaptogenic herbs which, as the name suggests, help the body to adapt to changing external circumstances.  This can reduce stress levels and potentially improve the ability to cope with change. As mentioned with the food, the ability to use these herbs depends a lot on the individual person’s ability to either take herbs internally, or on the opportunity to use essential oils safely in a diffuser, on ‘blankie’ or whatever is appropriate.

If you’re considering a Ketogenic Diet to treat your autistic child, read this first…

A new study has found that the ketogenic diet may be an effective treatment for autism. The ketogenic diet is a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet that has been shown to help control seizure activity in children with epilepsy. The new study, which was published in the journal Autism Research, found that the ketogenic diet may also help improve behavioral symptoms in children with autism.

The study was conducted by a team of researchers at the University of Toronto. The team studied 30 children with autism, aged 3 to 13 years old. half of the children were placed on the ketogenic diet for six months, while the other half continued with their usual diet.

The researchers found that children who were on the ketogenic diet showed significant improvements in their social skills and communication skills. They also had fewer tantrums and compulsions than those who were not on the diet. In addition, the ketogenic diet appeared to improve gastrointestinal symptoms in some children with autism.

The findings from this study suggest that the ketogenic diet may be a safe and effective treatment for autism. However, more research is needed to confirm these results.

If you’re considering starting your child on a ketogenic diet, you may want to consider using functional medicine first so you can find out exactly what your child’s nutritional deficiencies are.  The ketogenic diet can be great for some people, but absolutely not what is needed by others. What is good for the masses is not necessarily good for the individual!

What are some of the other natural treatments for autism?

Much of the focus is on the child with autism, but in my experience, because the main focus of the child is on the parent, there is a very strong intuitive connection no matter how verbal or non-verbal a child may be.  I believe that the health of the primary carer, often the mother, can have a huge influence on the child.  I view my role, therefore, as supporting the parent as much as the child, so the programmes that I tailor are geared towards what I would refer to as ‘family support’.  If the primary carer is ill or stressed, not getting the support they need – or being wonderfully complemented and appreciated by everyone else and told what a fantastic job she is doing, whilst simultaneously being left to get on with it… then the whole situation is a house of cards waiting to  crumble. 

Because of this, I have an overall package to support someone of any age with autism, but my main focus is on personalizing treatment and working closely with families to offer whatever support I can and to do the research needed to help get you the answers you need. Because this is intensive, there is a limit to the number of people I can work with at any one time but I do my utmost to ensure that you have the tools you need to continue in the same vein once we have finished working together

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