The recent news of the increased rate of autism has raised alot of questions and concerns. Is there really a growing incidence of autism or is it that we have better screening techniques?
Autism is a neurological disorder in which there are 3 main issues. The problems involve communication, social (sharing emotions and understanding how others feel) integration and problems with routines and repetitive behaviors. Each child has their own unique set of challenges and these can vary from mild to severe.
In the 1980’s, the rate of autism was 1 in 5000. The rate has now sky-rocketed to 1 in 88 children having autism spectrum disorder. This may be real numbers, or it may be due to the fact that doctors have gotten better at diagnosing this disorder, as well as the definition being broadening to diagnose mild cases.
The true causes of autism are unknown, but there are multiple factors being considered. Among them include toxic chemicals in our food and environment, medications, advanced age in pregnancy, the use of infertility drugs, and other medical issues. The most recent new finding is the risk of older fathers. Men over the age of 50 have twice the risk of having an autistic child.
There has been a lot of discussion of genetic predisposition for autism, but it doesn’t explain the increasing incidence of autism in the past 20-30 years. We need to look at the environmental changes impacting the immune system. A significant amount of our immune system (70%) is housed in the gastrointestinal tract. Increased inflammation in the intestinal cells can alter gut flora and lead to intestinal permeability, or what is known as “leaky gut”. The role of increased permeability and immune dysfunction has been confirmed with autistic children. The correct gastrointestinal environment helps to re-set the mucosal immune system, eliminate inflammation and allow nutrients to be better absorbed to provide an environment for balance and healing.
One treatment that I have seen to be very effective is a gluten and dairy (casein) free diet. I recommend that parents try this diet for 2-3 months with their children.
I also recommend stool studies to look for parasites, yeast or overgrowth of bacteria. Food allergies and intestinal pathogens are leading causes of inflammation in the intestine. Many autistic children are also found to be low in essential fatty acids and retinol (Vitamin A). These children can have problems with malabsorption which effects the ability to absorb important fats, proteins and carbohydrates for brain health.
If our children are suffering, it effects all of us. Early intervention has definitely shown a better prognosis.
Horvath K, Zielke RH, Collins J, et al. Secretin improves intestinal permeability in autistic children. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr 2000; 31: S30-31.
Horvath K, Peman JA. Autistic disorder and gastrointestinal disease. Curr Op Pediatr 2002;14: 583-587.
For more information, go to http://www.autism-society.org/.